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Court Rejects Request for Adverse Inference Instruction Where Plaintiff Fails to Prove Intent

Posted on October 13th, 2017

Follow our blog for updates on cases involving spoliation of evidenceThe United States District Court D, Nebraska heard the case of Inderjeet Basra, individually and as Personal Representative for the Estate of Atinderpal Singh, Dilshaan Rehal, by and through his next friend, Inderjeet Basra v. Ecklund Logistics, Inc., No. 8:16CV83, (D. Neb., March 2017) where the Plaintiff claimed the Defendant intentionally destroyed evidence to hide the truth. The Court disagreed.

Plaintiffs are the surviving spouse and child of Atinderpal Singh, who died after a trailer-tractor accident near York, Nebraska, on August 8, 2012. Singh’s tractor-trailer collided with a tractor-trailer driven by Freddy Galloway, an employee of Defendant. Plaintiffs filed this action against Defendant on February 17, 2016, for negligence, loss of consortium, and punitive damages.

The current discovery dispute rises out of Plaintiffs’ continuing complaints regarding Defendant’s production of documents and failure to verify and sign that its interrogatory answers were made under oath. Plaintiffs allege Defendant spoliated evidence by intentionally destroying or failing to preserve relevant documents in anticipation of litigation. Plaintiffs have asked the Court for sanctions in the form of an adverse inference instruction to the jury. Plaintiffs also request attorney’s fees and costs and an order compelling Defendant to provide a properly signed verification for each set of its interrogatory answers and to produce certain documents in compliance with this court’s previous Order.

Defendant denies it spoliated any evidence, and claims the documents alleged to have been intentionally destroyed never existed, were available to Plaintiffs from other sources, or were destroyed in the ordinary course of business. Defendant also claims Plaintiffs’ motion is now moot because Defendant has supplemented its discovery responses and provided a signed verification. Plaintiffs argue that the supplementation came after the parties’ agreed upon deadline of January 10, 2017, and after Plaintiffs filed this motion. Plaintiffs claim that Defendant’s recently provided verification is insufficient because it fails to specify which of the three sets of interrogatory responses it covers.

When a party alleges spoliation of evidence, the Court is required to make two findings before an adverse inference instruction is warranted: first, there must be a finding of intentional destruction indicating a desire to suppress the truth, and second, there must be a finding of prejudice to the opposing party. In reviewing the evidence submitted by the parties, the Court finds Plaintiffs have not established Defendant intentionally destroyed evidence with a desire to suppress the truth. Defendant’s evidence indicates the information requested by Plaintiffs did not exist, was obtained by Plaintiffs through other sources, or was purged by the company per DOT regulations.

Plaintiffs cannot show prejudice as Plaintiffs have obtained much of the information sought from Defendant through other sources and depositions. The Court concludes Defendant has not engaged in conduct that would warrant the sanction of an adverse jury instruction for spoliation of evidence. Therefore, the Court denies Plaintiffs’ motion with respect to its claim for spoliation.

ILS–Plaintiff ESI Discovery Experts

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