Law School Case Brief
Cedars-Sinai Med. Ctr. v. Superior Court - 18 Cal. 4th 1, 74 Cal. Rptr. 2d 248, 954 P.2d 511 (1998)
There is an evidentiary inference that evidence which one party has destroyed or rendered unavailable is unfavorable to that party.
In a medical malpractice action, the trial court granted plaintiff, a minor acting through his guardian ad litem, leave to file a third amended complaint. The original complaint alleged defendant hospital committed professional negligence that caused plaintiff's injuries during birth. During pretrial discovery, defendant was unable to locate certain records concerning plaintiff's birth, and plaintiff amended his complaint to allege a cause of action for intentional spoliation of evidence. Plaintiff's third amended complaint sought punitive damages under Civ. Code Proc. § 425.13, for the spoliation of evidence. The state appellate court denied defendant's petition for a writ of mandate to direct the trial court to vacate its order granting plaintiff leave to file his third amended complaint. Defendant hospital sought further review.
Did there exist a separate tort cause of action for intentional spoliation of evidence, where a party to the underlying action commits the spoliation?
The Supreme Court of California reversed the decision of the appellate court that denied the petition for a writ of mandate and remanded the cause with directions to issue a writ instructing the trial court to vacate its order granting plaintiff leave to file his third amended complaint. The Court held that where the intentional spoliation was committed by a party to the underlying cause of action to which the evidence was relevant and the spoliation was or should have been discovered before the conclusion of the underlying litigation, it was preferable to rely on existing non-tort remedies rather than create a tort remedy. The Court reasoned that the conflict between a tort remedy for intentional first party spoliation and the policy against creating derivative tort remedies for litigation-related misconduct, the strength of existing non-tort remedies for spoliation, and the uncertainty of the fact of harm in spoliation cases outweighed the benefits of creating a tort remedy.
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