Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Spoliation Claim Rejected in Fire Loss Case

In the case of State Farm Fire and Cas. Co. v. Cohen, No. 19-1947(E.D. Pa. Sept. 8, 2020 Quinones Alejandro, J.), the court granted summary judgment in favor of the Defendant in a case arising out of an appliance fire in a home. 

One of the issues addressed in this case was an allegation of spoliation of the product by the Defendant. The court rejected this claim in a case where the product, which was allegedly poorly maintained by the Defendant and allegedly led to the fire, disappeared. 

The court stated that there was no dispositive evidence in the record that the Defendant, as opposed to the Plaintiff, caused the product to go missing. Nor was there any evidence of an intent on the part of the Defendant to destroy any evidence. The court additionally noted that mere negligence with regards to a disappearance of evidence does not support a spoliation argument. As such, the request for an adverse spoliation inference against the Defendant was not granted.

The court also went on to rule that, without either the production or an adverse inference, the Plaintiff was unable to prove causation with respect to the fire. It was noted that no expert evidence was provided with regard to any alleged poor maintenance of the product. 

The court noted that negligence claims based upon damages caused by appliance fires generally require expert opinion with respect to the issue of causation. The court otherwise indicated that lay witness testimony that most of the fire damage appeared to be near where the product had been located is insufficient to meet the burden of proof on causation. 

For these reasons, summary judgment was granted in favor of the defense.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.  The companion Order can be viewed HERE

I send thanks to Attorney James M. Beck of the Philadelphia office of the Reed Smith law firm for bringing this case to my attention.

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