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The Duty to Preserve Evidence in Florida Products Liability Suits

Understanding when a person or entity must preserve evidence and how to get them to do so is an important part of a Florida product liability case. For example, if a person claims that a product is defective, preserving the evidence so that it can be inspected is essential. A person or entity’s duty to preserve evidence can arise in different ways, including by contract, by status, or by a discovery request.

If a person or entity fails to preserve evidence, a plaintiff may be able to file a spoliation claim. There are first-party and third-party spoliation claims. First-party spoliation claims are claims in which a party allegedly destroyed, lost, or misplaced evidence, and the party is also the defendant in a lawsuit for causing the plaintiff’s injuries or damages. Third-party spoliation claims arise when a person or entity destroyed, lost, or misplaced evidence critical to a plaintiff’s lawsuit, but where that party was not a party to the underlying action causing the plaintiff’s injuries or damages.

Under Florida law, the elements of a spoliation claim are: 1) the existence of a potential civil claim; 2) a duty to preserve relevant evidence; 3) the destruction of that evidence; 4) the significant impairment on the plaintiff’s ability to win the lawsuit; 5) the destruction of evidence cause the inability to win the lawsuit; and 6) resulting damages. One state’s supreme court recently decided a case involving a third-party spoliation claim where the employer failed to preserve the alleged defective product in a product liability claim.

Court Upholds Third-Party Spoliation Claim

In that case, the man injured his finger at work. He was hired to paint the employer’s property. The employer supplied him with a paint sprayer, and while he was cleaning it, the paint sprayer activated and injected paint and mineral spirits into his finger. He was taken to the hospital, and had to have his finger amputated. About three months after the injury, the man’s lawyer sent a letter to the employer, stating that they anticipated making an injury claim, and requesting that the company preserve the paint gun and any paperwork or documents relating to its purchase, manufacture, and maintenance. After receiving the letter, the manager reportedly instructed an employee to put the paint sprayer in the warehouse with a bag over it.

The man later filed a complaint against the manufacturer and seller of the paint sprayer asserting claims of product liability. The employer sent a letter to the man’s attorney about two years after the incident saying that the employer went to retrieve the spray gun, but was told that the spray gun was disposed of about two months after the incident. The man then filed a complaint against the employer alleging third-party spoliation of evidence for failing to preserve the spray gun. The employer claimed that the spray gun was disposed of before it received the letter requesting the preservation of the spray gun.

The court found that the defendant failed to preserve the spray gun after undertaking a duty to preserve it. The court awarded the man $250,000 in compensatory damages, and $150,000 in punitive damages. The appeals court affirmed the judgment, and reversed only on the award of punitive damages, finding that the man failed to present evidence that the employer engaged in wanton conduct.

Contact a Miami Product Liability Lawyer

If you have been injured by a defective product, consult Friedman, Rodman, & Frank, P.A. Our Miami product liability attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience helping accident victims. We want to help you get back on your feet. Our attorneys understand how to prove a wide range of product liability claims, including suits involving power tools, tires, and household products. Contact us today to set up a free initial consultation with a Florida product liability lawyer by calling 877-448-8585.

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