Monday, February 8, 2016

Federal Middle District Magistrate Mehalchick Addresses Spoliation of Evidence Issues in Slip and Fall Case

In her recent decision in the case of Mack v. Pilot Travel Centers, LLC, 1:14-CV-00090 (MD Pa. Dec. 22, 2015 Mehalchick, M.J.), Magistrate Judge Karoline Mehalchick denied a Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment under a rationale, in part, that the Plaintiff was not entitled to a spoliation inference from a Defendant’s failure to preserve store surveillance video tapes.  

The Plaintiff in this matter initially attempted to overcome the Defendant's motion for summary judgment by arguing that the Plaintiff was entitled to the assessment of a spoliation sanction against the defense relative to the surveillance video of the subject incident.

The Plaintiff asserted that, despite an informal policy of the defendant to save twenty minutes of footage when an incident occurred, in this matter, the Defendant only saved a fragmented, less than twenty minute portion of footage.

The court noted that the record before the court confirmed that the video of the incident itself was preserved and saved.   There was no evidence of any actual withholding of suppression of any other evidence.   Judge Mehalchick stated that a spoliation inference requires that there have been an intentional destruction of evidence, which was not found to be present in this matter.  

Nevertheless, the court went on to deny the motion for summary judgment after finding that, even in the absence of a spoliation inference, the Plaintiff had adduced sufficient evidence on the causation issue to allow the Plaintiff's case to proceed to a jury.

Summary judgment on the liability issues was denied where, under the record before the court, the Plaintiff offered evidence that the Plaintiff testified that he saw the water upon which he fell and given that one interpretation of the surveillance video supported the Plaintiff’s version of the incident.   The Plaintiff also presented a liability expert in support of his claims of negligence.  As such, the court found that a jury question was presented.  

Judge Karoline Mehalchick
M.D.Pa.
Judge Mehalchick otherwise indicated that an alleged "pervasive or obvious" recurrent problems on the premises can suffice as evidence of notice on the part of a defendant of an allegedly dangerous condition, particularly where the recurrent conditions allege were present at the time of the incident.  Here, there was evidence that the area of the Plaintiff's fall was a high traffic area and that employees of the landowner were trained to watch for patrons tracking in snow or rain water into the premises in the area in question.  For this additional reason, the defendant's motion for summary judgment was denied.

Anyone wishing to review this decision by Judge Mehalchick may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.

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