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Cedars-Sinai Medical Center v. Superior Court

Supreme Court of California

May 11, 1998, Decided

No. S048596.

Opinion

 [*4]  [**512]  [***249]    KENNARD, J. 

Plaintiff, a child injured during birth, alleges that defendant hospital intentionally destroyed evidence relevant to his malpractice action against the hospital. He seeks to bring a separate tort cause of action against defendant hospital for its alleged intentional spoliation--that is, intentional destruction or suppression--of evidence.

The intentional destruction of evidence is a grave affront to the cause of justice and deserves our unqualified condemnation. There are, however, existing and effective nontort remedies for this problem. Moreover, a tort remedy would impose a number of undesirable social costs, as well as running counter to important policies against creating tort remedies for litigation-related misconduct. As we shall explain below, we conclude that when the alleged intentional spoliation is committed by a party to the underlying cause of action to which the evidence is relevant and when the spoliation is or reasonably should have been discovered before the conclusion of the underlying litigation, it is preferable [****3]  to rely on existing nontort remedies rather than creating a tort remedy.

Plaintiff Kristopher Schon Bowyer, through his guardian ad litem, brought a medical malpractice action against defendant Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (hereafter sometimes hospital) and others for injuries he allegedly sustained because of oxygen deprivation during birth. In the course of pretrial discovery, plaintiff's attorney sought from defendant hospital copies of plaintiff's  [*5]  medical records; defendant hospital was unable to locate certain records, including fetal monitoring strips recording plaintiff's heartbeat during labor.

Plaintiff's attorney thereafter filed a second amended complaint, adding a cause of action for intentional spoliation of evidence and alleging that the hospital had intentionally destroyed the missing records to prevent plaintiff from prevailing in his malpractice action. The complaint sought punitive damages on plaintiff's cause of action for intentional spoliation. Defendant hospital moved to strike plaintiff's punitive damages claim on the ground that plaintiff had not complied with Code of Civil Procedure section 425.13, and the trial court granted the motion. ] Under [****4]  section 425.13, a plaintiff may not file a complaint seeking punitive damages in an action arising out of the professional negligence of a health care provider unless the court grants an order permitting the complaint to be filed; the court may grant the order only if the plaintiff establishes through affidavits a substantial probability of prevailing on the punitive damages claim.

 [**513]  [***250]   Plaintiff then moved under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.13 for leave to file a third amended complaint seeking punitive damages. The trial court granted plaintiff's motion. Defendant hospital petitioned the Court of Appeal for a writ of mandate. After issuing the alternative writ, the Court of Appeal denied defendant's petition in a written opinion holding that section 425.13 did not apply to plaintiff's claim of intentional spoliation because the alleged spoliation did not occur while defendant hospital was rendering professional medical services to plaintiff. We granted review to decide whether this court should recognize a tort remedy for the intentional destruction or suppression of evidence by a party to the underlying litigation and, if so, whether section 425.13 applies [****5]  to claims for punitive damages for acts of intentional spoliation by a health care provider.

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18 Cal. 4th 1 *; 954 P.2d 511 **; 74 Cal. Rptr. 2d 248 ***; 1998 Cal. LEXIS 2624 ****; 98 Daily Journal DAR 4881; 98 Cal. Daily Op. Service 3554

CEDARS-SINAI MEDICAL CENTER, Petitioner, v. THE SUPERIOR COURT OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY, Respondent; KRISTOPHER SCHON BOWYER, a Minor, etc., Real Party in Interest.

Prior History:  [****1]  APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Super. Ct. No. BC108582. Dion G. Morrow, Judge.

Disposition: We reversed the decision of the Court of Appeal denying the petition for a writ of mandate and remanded the cause with directions to that court to issue a writ instructing the trial court to vacate its order granting plaintiff leave to file his third amended complaint.

CORE TERMS

spoliation, destroyed, destruction, punitive, discovery, lawsuit, suppressed, evidentiary, misconduct, prevailed, litigation-related, nontort, interlocutory, deterrence, weigh

Civil Procedure, Writs, Common Law Writs, Mandamus, Evidence, Relevance, Preservation of Relevant Evidence, Spoliation, Torts, Remedies, Damages, General Overview, Pleadings, Amendment of Pleadings, Leave of Court, Punitive Damages, Commercial Law (UCC), Application & Construction, Damages, Healthcare Law, Healthcare Litigation, Actions Against Healthcare Workers, Types of Damages, Punitive Damages, Malpractice & Professional Liability, Healthcare Providers, Appeals, Reviewability of Lower Court Decisions, Preservation for Review, Negligence, Elements, Duty, Judgments, Relief From Judgments, Fraud, Misconduct & Misrepresentation, Criminal Law & Procedure, Preliminary Proceedings, Pretrial Motions & Procedures, Suppression of Evidence, Timing of Appeals, Preclusion of Judgments, Estoppel, Collateral Estoppel, Res Judicata, Independent Actions, Discovery & Disclosure, Discovery, Misconduct During Discovery, Inferences & Presumptions, Inferences, Jury Trials, Jury Instructions, Standard Instructions, Obstruction of Administration of Justice, Evidence Tampering