New York State Spoliation Law — Negligence Suffices for Case-Ending Sanction If Prejudice Is Severe Enough

Jamindar v. Uniondale Union Free School Dist., 90 A.D.3d 610, 933 N.Y.S.2d 735 (2d Dep’t 2011):

"When a party negligently loses or intentionally destroys key evidence, thereby depriving the non-responsible party from being able to prove its claim or defense, the responsible party may be sanctioned by the striking of its pleading" (Utica Mut. Ins. Co. v Berkoski Oil Co., 58 AD3d 717, 718, 872 N.Y.S.2d 166 [internal quotation marks omitted]). However, "[w]here the evidence lost is not central to the case or its destruction is not prejudicial, a lesser sanction, or no sanction, may be appropriate" (Klein v Ford Motor Co., 303 AD2d 376, 377, 756 N.Y.S.2d 271; see E.W. Howell Co., Inc. v S.A.F. La Sala Corp., 36 AD3d 653, 654-655, 828 N.Y.S.2d 212). A sanction for spoliation of evidence may be warranted even if the evidence was destroyed before the spoliator became a party to the subject lawsuit, provided it was on notice that the evidence might be needed for future litigation (see Baglio v St. John's Queens Hosp., 303 AD2d 341, 755 N.Y.S.2d 427). The Supreme Court is empowered with "broad discretion in determining the appropriate sanction for spoliation of evidence" (Utica Mut. Ins. Co. v Berkoski Oil Co., 58 AD3d at 718 [internal quotation marks omitted]; see Barahona v Trustees of Columbia Univ. in City of N.Y., 16 AD3d 445, 446, 792 N.Y.S.2d 113).

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