« Ind. Decisions - Court of Appeals posts five today | Main | Environment - Several local stories today »

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court posts one today

Patricia Gribben v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (3/22/05 IndSCt) [Torts; Spoliation]
[Certified Question from the USDC, SD Ind., The Honorable V. Sue Shields, Magistrate Judge]
Dickson, Justice

Pursuant to Indiana Appellate Rule 64, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana has certified, and we have accepted, the following questions of Indiana law:
1. Does Indiana law recognize a claim for "first-party" spoliation of evidence; that is, if an alleged tortfeasor negligently or intentionally destroys or discards evidence that is relevant to a tort action, does the plaintiff in the tort action have an additional cognizable claim against the tortfeasor for spoliation of evidence?

2. If so, what are the elements of the tort, and must a plaintiff elect between pursuing the spoliation claim and utilizing an evidentiary inference against the alleged tortfeasor in the underlying tort action?

In her certification order, Judge Shields asserts that there is no controlling Indiana precedent and that courts in other jurisdictions vary greatly. * * *

In light of Indiana's inconclusive case law, we agree with Judge Shields that there is no controlling Indiana precedent as to the questions presented. * * *

Notwithstanding the important considerations favoring the recognition of an independent tort of spoliation by parties to litigation, we are persuaded that these are minimized by existing remedies and outweighed by the attendant disadvantages. We thus determine the common law of Indiana to be that, if an alleged tortfeasor negligently or intentionally destroys or discards evidence that is relevant to a tort action, the plaintiff in the tort action does not have an additional independent cognizable claim against the tortfeasor for spoliation of evidence under Indiana law.

It may well be that that the fairness and integrity of outcome and the deterrence of evidence destruction may require an additional tort remedy when evidence is destroyed or impaired by persons that are not parties to litigation and thus not subject to existing remedies and deterrence. But the certified questions are directed only to first-party spoliation, and we therefore decline to address the issue with respect to third-party spoliation.

Conclusion. We answer the first certified question in the negative: Indiana law does not recognize a claim for "first-party" negligent or intentional spoliation of evidence. It is thus unnecessary to answer the second question.

Shepard, C.J., and Sullivan, Boehm, and Rucker, JJ., concur.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 22, 2005 02:07 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions