Spoliation refers to the destruction or the failure to preserve evidence relevant to a case. Under Maryland law, spoliation occurs when there is an act of destruction of discoverable evidence that occurred after a lawsuit has been filed or at a time when the filing is imminent, as well as an intent to destroy the evidence. The doctrine of spoliation of evidence is based on the principles of fairness and equity. The reasoning is that a party should not be permitted to destroy evidence to the detriment of their opponent. In Maryland, if there has been spoliation in a Maryland truck accident case, the court may give a spoliation jury instruction that permits an adverse inference even if it did not involve an act of bad faith. This means that a jury can infer that the evidence was harmful to the party that destroyed the evidence. Apart from a potential jury instruction, courts are authorized to impose a range of sanctions, including dismissing the case.
In a recent case before a state’s supreme court, the court considered whether a trucking company’s case should be dismissed against a manufacturer after it discarded parts relevant to the case. In that case, a truck driver for the trucking company experienced the dump gate activating on its own twice in one week, causing it to open and dump its load unexpectedly. The trucking company replaced the rig’s valve, rewired the control circuit for the system, and added a master switch in the truck’s cab. About a year later, the dump gate in the truck driver’s trailer again activated on its own while he was driving on an interstate. The trailer opened and dumped its load of gravel unexpectedly. The release of the gravel caused several collisions, injuring several people. On the same day, another one of the company’s trucks experienced the same issue, dumping sand unexpectedly on the same interstate.
After several people filed suit against the trucking company, the company filed suit against a company that manufactured the dump gate valves. It alleged that the rig’s valve was defectively designed. Experts retained by the trucking company found that the valve system had design defects and lacked safeguards, and that the valves could activate unexpectedly when exposed to external electromagnetic fields.