By Daniel Horwitz:
On March 3rd, 2008, Lee Ann Tatham purchased two new Bridgestone tires in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Unfortunately, however, less than three months later, one of the two tires failed while she was driving on the interstate, causing her to spin out. Thereafter, Ms. Tatham’s car careened across the highway, struck a guardrail, flipped, and landed in a ditch. Ms. Tatham survived the accident, but she suffered a broken back as a result of it.
Because her car was completely totaled in the accident, Ms. Tatham’s insurance company advised her to transfer the title of her vehicle to the wrecker service that had towed it away. The wrecker service subsequently destroyed her vehicle – including the defective tire – as part of its routine practice. Ms. Tatham did not seek to have the tire destroyed by the wrecker service, and she did not know that it would be. Additionally, because she had not yet hired an attorney, Ms. Tatham was not aware that she was supposed to have the defective tire preserved as evidence.
Eventually, Ms. Tatham brought a products liability lawsuit against Bridgestone seeking compensation for her injuries. Thereafter, Bridgestone filed a motion to dismiss Ms. Tatham’s lawsuit on the basis that the tire at issue had improperly been destroyed. The trial court denied Bridgestone’s motion, and it permitted Ms. Tatham’s case to go forward. This appeal followed.
Spoliation of Evidence
As a general matter, people are not allowed to destroy evidence that will be relevant to a future legal proceeding. Failing to preserve evidence – or, in legal parlance, “spoliation of evidence” – exposes a litigant to being sanctioned once the legal proceeding begins. In Tennessee, the range of potential remedies that a trial court can use to punish a party for destroying evidence is extensive. Possible sanctions include “dismissal of the action, rendering a judgment by default, limiting the introduction of certain claims or evidence, entering an order designating that certain facts shall be taken as established, and striking out pleadings or parts of pleadings.”
Broadly speaking, trial sanctions for spoliation of evidence are intended to serve two purposes. First, they “attempt to place the non-spoliator in a position similar to where it would have been prior to the destruction of evidence.” Second, Continue reading Tennessee Supreme Court gives trial courts more latitude in determining proper sanctions for spoliation of evidence.