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FL Case Blurb: Martino, FL Supreme Court Finds no Separate Cause of Action for 1st Person Spoliation Claims

Posted by rjbiii on June 21, 2008

Post Process-This opinion is from the Supreme Court of Florida, and covers only law in Florida, which will differ is some aspects to Federal Law.

[W]e have held that when evidence was intentionally lost, misplaced, or destroyed by one party, trial courts were to rely on sanctions found in Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.380(b)(2) and that “a jury could well infer from such a finding that the records would have contained indications of negligence.” Id.; see Mercer v. Raine, 443 So. 2d 944, 946 (Fla. 1983) (willful violation of trial court’s discovery order justified imposition of harsh sanction of default judgment against noncomplying party). If the loss of the evidence was determined to be negligent, the Third District’s [(an appellate court)] rebuttable presumption of negligence for the underlying tort applied. However, we clarified that the presumption only applied when “the absence of the records hinders [the plaintiff’s] ability to establish a prima facie case.” Id. This rebuttable presumption shifted the burden of proof under section 90.302(2), Florida Statutes (1985), so that the presumption “is not overcome until the trier of fact believes that the presumed [negligence] has been overcome by whatever degree of persuasion is required by the substantive law of the case.” Id. at 600-01 (quoting Caldwell v. Division of Retirement, 372 So. 2d 438, 440 (Fla. 1979)).

Martino v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 908 So. 2d 342, 346-347 (Fla. 2005)

Special Concurrence (Wells, J):

I concur with the majority’s opinion and reasoning in affirming the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s decision that there is no separate cause of action against a first-party defendant for spoliation of evidence. In instances in which it is demonstrated that a first-party defendant has a duty by reason of statute, regulation, court order, or discovery rule to maintain and preserve evidence, I believe this Court has already decided that the presumption from Public Health Trust of Dade County v. Valcin, 507 So. 2d 596, 601 (Fla. 1987), or sanctions should be used by the trial court. No separate cause of action, therefore, should be found to exist.

Martino v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 908 So. 2d 342, 348 (Fla. 2005)

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