Spoliation: Missing Surveillance Video of Patient's Fall Merits Adverse Inference
July 5, 2018 | Strategic Insights for Health System
Ruling in a wrongful-death case against a hospital, a Missouri court of appeals vacated a jury verdict in favor of the hospital and granted the plaintiff a new trial, finding that sufficient evidence existed to support the plaintiff's claim that the hospital had spoliated evidence—a surveillance video showing the patient's fall near the entrance to the facility. The appellate court concluded that the defendant hospital provided "overwhelming inconsistencies" about what happened to the missing surveillance video, meriting an inference that the hospital engaged in fraud or deceit or acted in bad faith with regard to that evidence. Spoliation, the appeals court explained, is the intentional act of destruction or significant alteration of evidence. An inference of fraud and a desire to suppress the truth may be established if the alleged spoliator had a duty or should have recognized a duty to preserve the evidence. The spoliation doctrine, as applied in Missouri jurisprudence, punishes the spoliators by requiring them to admit that the evidence destroyed would have been unfavorable to the defense, the appeals court explained. The trial court made a significant error of law, the appeals court said, by not requiring the hospital to admit that the content of the missing video would have been unfavorable to its position. The appeals court vacated the verdict and returned the case for a new trial.
The patient fell and struck his head while entering the hospital's procedure center. He went into a coma and died two months later from his injuries. The patient's son sued the hospital for his father's wrongful death, alleging that the fall was caused by an uneven walking surface leading into the procedure center. He claimed that the hospital wrongfully...