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Definition and Determination of Spoliation of Evidence under PA Law

Definition and Punishments

‘Spoliation of evidence’ is the non-preservation or significant alteration of evidence for pending or future litigation.  When a party to a suit has been charged with spoliating evidence in that suit (sometimes called ‘first-party spoliation’) . . . trial courts [may] exercise their discretion to impose a range of sanction against the spoliator.” Additionally, sanctions for spoliation arise from “the common sense observation that a party who has noticed that evidence is relatable to litigation and who proceeds to destroy said evidence, is more likely to have been threatened by that evidence, than a party in the same position who does not destroy the evidence.

In other words, Pennsylvania courts recognize that a potential remedy for spoliation is allowing the jury to draw an “adverse inference” against the spoliating party.

In federal court, “spoliation occurs where: the evidence was in the party’s control; the evidence is relevant to the claims or defenses in the case; there has been actual suppression or withholding of evidence; and, he duty to preserve the evidence was reasonably foreseeable to the party.” As to sanctions in federal county, the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has noted that spoliation ‘may give rise to sanctions which include: dismissal of a claim or granting a judgment in favor of a prejudiced part; suppression of evidence; an averse inference, referred to as the spoliation inference; fines; and attorney’s fees and costs.”

The Test for Determining Spoliation and its Severity

To make such a determination, the court must balance three factors:  “(1) the degree of fault of the party who altered or destroyed the evidence; (2) the degree of prejudice suffered by the opposing party; and (3) the availability of a lesser sanction that will protect the opposing party’s rights and deter future similar conduct. In evaluating the first prong, the fault of the party altering or destroying evidence, courts must consider both “the extent of the offending party’s duty or responsibility to preserve the relevant evidence, and the presence of absence of bad faith.”

Philadelphia Local Counsel at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Advocate for Those Affected by Spoliation of Evidence

At Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C., we handle many types of legal matters, including spoliation of evidence. Call 215-574-0600 today or contact us online for local legal counsel in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.