Oklahoma Insurance Law

Is Deleting Photographs From A Cell Phone Spoliation Of Evidence?

The "tall building lawyer" found out during the EUO that Bubba took photos of all the hand guns one week before the fire. Bubba was going to send the photos to a disabled vet who just returned home due to a medical discharge for combat injuries.  Bubba has a big heart and wanted to do something for one of our soldiers wounded in the service of our country.  He was going to let this soldier have his pick of any gun he wanted and give it to him as a gesture of appreciation.  The fire destroyed the guns so he never sent the photos.  The insurer learned about the photos and wanted a copy to document the claim.  

The photos no longer exist.  Bubba, while scouting his favorite deer stand, saw a "buck with a rack that makes ya as giddy as a schoolgirl gettin' ready for her first date." He took so many pictures of the buck that he overwrote the photos of the guns.  

The Advisory Committee, in addressing Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(f), noted that once litigation is anticipated or is commenced, a party is under an obligation to halt or alter its destruction policies such that electronically stored information relevant to the litigation will be preserved.

The good faith requirement of Rule 37(f) means that a party is not permitted to exploit the routine operation of an information system to thwart discovery obligations by allowing that operation to continue in order to destroy specific stored information that it is required to preserve. When a party is under a duty to preserve information because of pending or reasonably anticipated litigation, intervention in the routine operation of an information system is one aspect of what is often called a litigation hold.

When evidence is destroyed, an adverse jury instruction can be imposed as a sanction.  See ´╗┐Stevenson v. Union Pac. R.R., 354 F.3d 739, 747-750 (8th Cir. ´╗┐2003) (although audio tape recordings were destroyed prior to the litigation as a matter or routine subject to the destruction policy, the adverse inference jury instruction spoliation sanction was affirmed as voice recordings were related to the litigation and lawsuit was certain to arise rendering destruction unreasonable and inferring intent.); In re Prudential Ins. Co. Of Am. Sales Practices Litig., 169 F.R.D. 598,615 (D.N.J. 1997) (adverse inference would be drawn from destruction of computer records when company had a haphazard and uncoordinated retention policy). 

If it ends up with a jury deciding whether or not the photos were destroyed to keep the insurance company from seeing them, there better not be any animal rights activists sitting on the jury!

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Buckman & Gray A Professional Corporation
10108 East 79th Street

Tulsa, Oklahoma 74133-4524
Phone:
(918) 587-1525

Fax:
(918) 587-1535