Discovery -- 2018



Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. Koch   (Georgia Supreme Court)

Less strict standard for sanctions against spoliation for plaintiffs

This is a product liability case alleging a tire tread separation. However, the plaintiff preserved as evidence only the "carcass" of the tire and allowed parts of the detached tread, the wheel, the three other tires, and the vehicle to be destroyed. This is called spoliation of evidence, and a court can impose sanctions against a party that does so, perhaps even as much as dismissing the case. The issue on appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court relates to the duty of care that the plaintiff must take to preserve the evidence for the law suit.

The lower court ruled that a plaintiff has a duty to prevent spoliation of evidence in anticipated litigation when a reasonable person in the same circumstances would do so. The defendant wants the court to hold plaintiffs to the same standard as defendants.

The Manufacturers' Center for Legal Action filed an amicus brief supporting review of this case by the Georgia Supreme Court. We argued that objective spoliation standards should be applied equally to plaintiffs and defendants, and that defendants are held to a standard that requires preservation of evidence whenever it can be anticipated that a person could be contemplating litigation. Allowing a plaintiff to be held to a far more lenient standard improperly skews the scales of justice, and allows a plaintiff to make his or her burden of proof easier by destroying evidence after litigation is reasonably foreseeable to an objective person.

This will make product defect claims impossible to prove or defend, It could also lead to false findings of defect that can lead to redesigns of products in ways that are less safe.

On May 15, 2017, the Court agreed to hear this appeal. On March 15, 2018, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the trial and appeals courts, stating that the plaintiff has a duty to prevent spoliation of evidence only when a reasonable person would do so while the defendant must preserve evidence whenever it can be anticipated that a person could be contemplating litigation. This unequal standard will make product defect claims must harder to defend because of the heightened duty to preserve evidence.


Related Documents:
NAM amicus brief  (January 17, 2017)

 


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