Thursday, July 14, 2011

Adverse Inference Allowed as Spoliation Sanction in Pennsylvania Eastern Federal District Slip and Fall Case

In the United States Eastern District Federal Court Decision of Baynes v. Home Depot, U.S.A., Inc., PICS Case No. 11-1158 (E.D. Pa. June 9, 2011, Shiller, J.), the Court granted a Plaintiff’s motion for spoliation sanctions in a case where the Defendant store failed to preserve certain video surveillance footage in a slip and fall case. The Court allowed the Plaintiff the sanction of an adverse inference against the Defendant.

In this case, the Plaintiff allegedly slipped and fell at a Home Depot store as a result of a puddle of liquid on the floor.

The Defendant store admitted that there was a standard procedure for identifying and retaining video regarding slip and fall events that occurred in the store. According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff’s counsel also sent a letter to the store requesting that the video surveillance footage be preserved from four (4) hours before the incident to one (1) hour after the incident.

However, the store preserved and produced only about 20 minutes of footage, beginning less than a minute before the Plaintiff’s accident and continuing through her removal from the store by paramedics.

After reviewing the case presented, and applying Pennsylvania law regarding spoliation sanctions, the Court concluded that the Plaintiff had demonstrated that a spoliation sanction was proper.

The Court noted that there was no dispute that the store’s surveillance system was within the store’s control and that footage of the area of the Plaintiff’s fall was clearly relevant. The Court also noted that it was foreseeable to the Defendant that the video footage would be discoverable if the case proceeded to suit.

According to the court, the store’s conduct in securing employee statements and conducting an internal investigation into the Plaintiff’s fall, including the decision to save a selected portion of the video, indicated that the store was aware that litigation could be imminent.

Although the store retained footage of the Plaintiff’s fall, it apparently disposed of video footage that may have shown how long the substance was present on the floor prior to the Plaintiff’s fall. The Court felt that the store’s failure to retain all but 20 minutes of video from the date of the accident prejudiced the Plaintiff’s case thereby warranting a spoliation inference with respect to the missing portions of the video.

According to the opinion, the Court also went on to find in favor of the Plaintiff on the merits of the case presented and entered an award in the Plaintiff’s favor in the amount of $44,384.00 in damages.


Anyone desiring a copy of this case may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.

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