Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules No Cause of Action for Negligent Spoliation

In its November 23, 2011 decision in the case of first impression of Pyeritz v. Commonwealth, No. 9 WAP 2009  (Pa. 2011), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that Pennsylvania law does not recognize a cause of action for negligent spoliation of evidence.

This case arose out of a hunting accident during which the plaintiff's decedent allegedly fell from a hunting stand that was located about 15 feet up in a tree.  When the decedent was found, a broken nylon strap that apparently held him in the tree was also retrieved.  The pieces of nylon strap were retained by the police who then later destroyed the evidence despite requests from Plaintiff's counsel that the evidence be retained.

The Plaintiff eventually filed suit against the products manufacturers and eventually settled that case for $200,000. 

The Plaintiffs then also sued the Pennsylvania State Police under a theory of negligent spoliation of evidence.  The Fayette County Court of Common Pleas entered summary judgment in favor of the Defendant Pennsylvania State Police and the Commonwealth Court affirmed.
At the Supreme Court level, the justices unanimously upheld the Commonwealth Court's ruling that a plaintiff cannot sue a third party under a negligence theory for mishandling or destroying evidence.

Justices J. Michael Eakin and Debra Todd wrote separate concurring opinions, but joined in the result.

Justice McCaffery's Majority Opinion may be viewed here.

Justice Eakin's Concurring Opinion may be viewed here.

Justice Todd's Concurring Opinion may be viewed here 

Source:  "Justices: No Cause of Action for Negligent Spoliation in Pa. by Zack Needles of the The Legal Intelligencer (Nov. 29, 2011).

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