Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case dealing with the spoliation doctrine, which allows for a court to impose sanctions against a party who fails to preserve relevant evidence. The case presents an interesting issue for Maryland car accident victims in that it illustrates the range of consequences a party may face for failing to preserve evidence that is relevant to a pending legal proceeding.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff was the surviving husband of a woman who was killed in a car accident. According to the court’s opinion, the woman’s vehicle hydroplaned while driving over a portion of the road that was flooded due to a clogged storm drain. The plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city that was charged with maintaining the storm drain. It was undisputed that the storm drain was on city property, although the city believed it to be on county property.
After the woman’s vehicle was towed to a scrap yard, the scrap yard owner sent the plaintiff a letter indicating that the vehicle was incurring daily storage fees. Shortly after receipt of this letter, the plaintiff retained counsel, who sent a letter to the scrap yard requesting the vehicle be preserved. Counsel followed up with a telephone call the next week, and was not told that preservation of the vehicle was dependent on the payment of fees. Counsel instructed the scrap yard to direct any questions to him.