Alleged Intentional Destruction of Evidence In California
In Cedars-Sinai Medical Center v. Superior Court, 18 Cal. 4th 1, 74 Cal. Rptr. 2d 248, 954 P.2d 511, 521 n.4 (Cal. 1998), the plaintiff, a child injured during birth, alleged that the defendant hospital had intentionally destroyed evidence relevant to his malpractice action against it. 954 P.2d at 512.
In rejecting the plaintiff's spoliation claim as a matter of law, the court ruled that it was preferable to rely on existing non-tort remedies, rather than create a tort remedy. Id.
The court found that a spoliation claim would be inconsistent with the general principle that bars tort remedies for litigation-related misconduct, such as perjury or the concealment of evidence, and the related prohibition against attacking adjudications on the grounds that evidence presented was falsified or destroyed. Id. at 514-18.
It noted that several non-tort remedies exist to punish and deter spoliation, including an evidentiary inference that destroyed evidence was unfavorable to the destroying party, discovery sanctions, disciplinary sanctions against attorneys, and criminal penalties. Id. at 516-19.
The court also expressed concern that, in most cases of spoliation, it would be difficult to determine whether the plaintiff had been damaged by the destruction of evidence because the jury could only speculate as to the nature of the evidence and the effect it might have had on the outcome of the underlying action. Id. at 518-20.
Finally, the court worried that the costs of defending spoliation claims would cause parties to "take extraordinary measures to preserve for an indefinite period documents and things of no apparent value solely to avoid the possibility of spoliation liability if years later those items turn out to have some potential relevance to future litigation." Id. at 519.
The court concluded that whatever additional benefits a tort remedy might create in ensuring that the issues in underlying litigations are fairly decided were outweighed by these policy considerations. Id. at 521.