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PA Court Rejects Spoliation Sanctions in Crib Death Case

March 4, 2016

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<p dir="LTR" align="JUSTIFY">A federal judge in the Western District of Pennsylvania recently considered whether sanctions for spoliation were proper in a tragic case where a baby suffocated to death in his crib due to an allegedly defective bumper pad.</p>
<p dir="LTR" align="JUSTIFY">In <a href="http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=4738543266976634053&amp;hl=en&amp;as_sdt=6&amp;as_vis=1&amp;oi=scholarr" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><i>Micjan v. Wal-Mart Stores</i></a>, plaintiffs sued Wal-Mart, Garan Services Corp., and Triboro Quilt Manufacturing after their three-month old son died from asphyxia in 2012. Plaintiffs claimed that there was a defect in their son’s bumper pad. The three defendants moved for dismissal based on spoliation, arguing that the child could have died from suffocating on other items, such as the crib, mattress, stuffed animal, pillow and blankets. These items were not preserved, as plaintiffs lost most of the crib items during various moves that the family made.</p>
<p dir="LTR" align="JUSTIFY">In ruling against the defendants, the judge determined that defendants had to show that plaintiffs acted in bad faith in not retaining the items, in addition to showing that the items were relevant to the case and in plaintiffs’ control. The judge determined that there was no evidence showing bad faith and further argued that the defendants failed to explain how the duty to preserve evidence was reasonably foreseeable to the plaintiffs, who would have no reason to anticipate that the other items could be a part of a future lawsuit’s defense.</p>
<p dir="LTR" align="JUSTIFY">Judge Mitchell further stated that the defendants were not prejudiced by the lack of the other items in the crib as the defendants could acquire similar examples of such items to use as part of their defense.</p>
<p dir="LTR" align="JUSTIFY">Lawyers often cite to the adage "bad facts make bad law" and no doubt here the plight of these sympathetic plaintiff's impacted the court's decision.</p>
<p dir="LTR" align="JUSTIFY">Thanks to Chelsea Rendleman for her contribution to this post and please write to <a href="mailto:mbono@wcmlaw.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Mike Bono</a> for more information.</p>
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