Negligent Spoliation Because Lost or Destroyed Evidence

Not every piece of lost or destroyed evidence should lead to a cause of action for negligent spoliation. Where the destruction or loss of evidence defeats any chance of the plaintiff's recovering in the underlying action, we conclude that the plaintiff deserves recourse for such a loss. Therefore, under a claim for negligent spoliation, the defendant's breach must be the proximate cause of the plaintiff's inability to file, or to win, the underlying lawsuit. Other courts that have recognized spoliation within the context of traditional causes of action have required a plaintiff to show that the "defendant's loss or destruction of the evidence caused the plaintiff to be unable to prove an otherwise valid, underlying cause of action." Boyd v. Travelers Ins. Co., supra, 166 Ill. 2d at 197, 652 N.E.2d at 272, 209 Ill. Dec. at 731. In our opinion, the "otherwise valid" language places too heavy a burden on the plaintiff. Without the lost or destroyed evidence, the plaintiff cannot show that the underlying claim was valid. The Appellate Court of Illinois, in Petrik v. Monarch Printing Corp., 150 Ill. App. 3d 248, 264, 501 N.E.2d 1312, 1322, 103 Ill. Dec. 774, 784 (1986), referring to this language, found that "such a showing would be nearly impossible because judges or juries cannot evaluate the value of evidence that they cannot see. " Therefore, we conclude that, in order for a plaintiff to show proximate cause, the trier of fact must determine that the lost or destroyed evidence was so important to the plaintiff's claim in the underlying action that without that evidence the claim did not survive or would not have survived a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56, Ala. R. Civ. P.