Souza v. Fred Carries Contracts, Inc

In Souza v. Fred Carries Contracts, Inc., 191 Ariz. 247, 955 P.2d 3 (App. 1997), the trial court essentially dismissed the plaintiff's negligence case because her automobile had been destroyed before it could be examined by the experts. Id. at 249, 955 P.2d at 5. The Court agreed that litigants have a duty to preserve relevant evidence, but the Court rejected a rigid rule for such cases as "ill-advised" and held that destruction of evidence should be evaluated case-by-case, considering a "continuum of fault" and imposing penalties accordingly. Id. at 250, 955 P.2d at 6. An innocent failure, for example, should be of less concern than intentional destruction or failure to comply with a court order or discovery obligation to preserve or produce evidence. Id. The Court reversed the dismissal because the defendant had some warning of the car's potential destruction but did nothing to preserve it. Id. at 251, 955 P.2d at 7. Moreover, nothing showed that the defendant was unable to defend or that its expert would be unable to offer opinions on causation or to challenge the plaintiff's expert. Id. The Court also held that the trial court erred in failing to consider less severe sanctions. Id.