Court Finds Defendants’ Actions Unreasonable and Sufficient to Support a Finding They Acted with the Intent to Deprive Plaintiff of Evidence
In Moody vs. CSX Transp., Inc., No. 07-cv-6398P, (W.D.N.Y. Sept., 2017), the United States District Court for the Western District of New York called Defendant CSX Transportation’s Court found defendants’ actions unfathomable and they did not uphold their duties under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The trial court dismissed Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, leaving only the questions of failure to warn by sounding a horn, and for failure post appropriate warning signs.
The case arises from a lawsuit against CSX Transportation, Inc., (“CSX”) by Wakeesha Moody (“Moody”) for injuries sustained in a railway accident. In June of 2016, Moody tried to crawl under a train car, when it began to move. Moody was trapped and dragged approximately twenty feet, resulting in serious permanent injuries.
The locomotive in question was equipped with an event recorder, or black box. CSX’s road foreman of engines was tasked with downloading information from event recorders. He was in charge of the laptop with the information related to the locomotive that injured Moody in 2006. CSX’s policy was to transmit the downloaded information to a central data vault. The Defendants have not been able to produce the files from the laptop. Defendants say the laptop crashed sometime after Moody’s accident. Defendants are unable to say what measures were taken to try to recover that information.
Moody has moved for sanctions on the grounds that Defendants have spoliated evidence. Moody claims Defendants spoliated data from the event recorder and laptop and asks the Court to strike the Defendants’ answer or provide an adverse inference instruction. Moody also contends Defendants took no reasonable steps to preserve data and their actions were willful or grossly negligent. Moody also argues she has been prejudiced by the missing data.
A party bringing a spoliation motion must demonstrate that the party charged with destroying the evidence had an obligation to preserve it, the records were destroyed with a culpable state of mind, and that the destroyed evidence was relevant to the party’s claim. Spoliation is the destruction of evidence or the failure to properly preserve it for another’s use as evidence in reasonably foreseeable litigation. If electronically stored information that should have been preserved in anticipation of litigation is lost because a party failed to take reasonable steps to preserve it, and it cannot be replaced through additional discovery, the Court, upon finding prejudice to another party from the loss of information, and upon finding that the party acted with the intent to deprive another party of the information, may presume the lost information is unfavorable to the party, and may instruct the jury to preserve that the information is such.
Here, the Court finds that CSX’s explanation for the loss of data strains credulity. The Court finds it unbelievable that no one in the CSX Organization attempted to access or review the data in the vault. The Court also finds the data would have established some relevant and material facts. The Court says the idea that a sophisticated railroad transportation company like CSX could be involved in a serious accident that included loss of limb, would fail to review critical data for four years is unfathomable.
The Court also found that Defendants acted unreasonably in destroying the crashed laptop and not making any effort to retrieve the data. Under FRCP Rule 37(e)(1), sanctions may be imposed where the loss of electronic information has prejudiced the moving party. Clearly the destruction of relevant evidence is damaging to the Plaintiff. In addition, the loss of data has required Moody to spend additional resources to attempt to resolve the factual dispute. The Court said the Defendants’ repeated failure to confirm the data had been properly preserved is so stunningly derelict as to show intentionality.
The Court said that though Defendants’ actions were egregious enough to find intent, they were not so outrageous as to warrant disposition of the case. The Adverse Instruction is justified. Adverse instruction will address the evidentiary gap caused by Defendants’ loss of evidence. The precise instruction should be determined by the Court at the time of trial.
For the reasons discussed, Defendants’ motion to exclude Timko’s testimony is granted in part and denied in part. Moody’s motion for sanctions is granted.