Published on:

Georgia Appellate Court Discusses Spoliation Doctrine and a Party’s Duty to Preserve Evidence

Earlier this month, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a written opinion in a product liability case, discussing the spoliation doctrine and how it should be applied when evidence was destroyed by a party before trial. In the case, Cooper Tire & Rubber v. Koch, the court determined that the plaintiff’s destruction of certain evidence that was relevant to her product liability case against the defendant was not a violation of the spoliation doctrine and did not require the court to impose sanctions against her.

TiresThe Facts of the Case

Koch was driving eastbound on Interstate 16 in a Ford Explorer when his tire blew out. The blow-out caused Koch to lose control of the vehicle, ultimately ending in an accident that seriously injured Koch. After the accident, Koch was taken to the intensive care unit for recovery.

While her husband was in the hospital, Mrs. Koch received a call from the towing company, telling her that she was incurring a daily storage fee for her husband’s vehicle. She explained that she could not afford the fee. The owner of the towing company told her that she could sign the title over to him so that he could sell the totaled vehicle for scrap to satisfy her debt. She discussed this with her husband, who agreed but asked that the towing company owner “save the tires.” Shortly after this, Koch died, and his wife filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the manufacturer of the blown-out tire.

As it turns out, only the blown-out tire was saved, and the remaining tires and all four wheels were discarded along with the vehicle. When the defendant tire company found this out during discovery, it asked the trial court to prohibit the plaintiff from admitting the single blown-out tire into evidence as a sanction for destroying other relevant evidence that could have been helpful to the defendant’s case. The defendant argued that a defect in the wheel itself could have been responsible for the blow-out, rather than a defect in the tire, and that without the wheel, the defendant was prevented from effectively making this argument.

The court declined to impose sanctions against Mrs. Koch. The court explained that in some situations, the pre-trial destruction of evidence is a violation of the spoliation doctrine, but the focus is on whether litigation is reasonably foreseeable. Here, the court held, Mrs. Koch did not foresee that litigation was likely upcoming, and thus there was no duty to preserve the evidence. Since there was no duty to preserve the evidence, there could be no sanctions for failing to do so.

Have You Been Injured by a Dangerous Product?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured by a defective or dangerous product, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The Georgia product liability attorneys at Miller Legal Services are well versed in the rights and responsibilities of accident victims, and we dedicate our practice to helping them seek financial recovery for their injuries. Call 770-284-3727 to set up a free consultation with a car accident attorney today.

More Blog Posts:

Injured Georgians May Have a Claim Against an Insurance Company that Acts in Bad Faith, Marietta Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, December 6, 2016.

Court Permits Case Against School Administrators Following Car Accident on School Grounds, Marietta Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, December 1, 2016.