A recent ruling by the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, gave new life to a plaintiff to pursue a claim of spoliation of evidence against Enterprise Leasing Company of Chicago arising from Enterprise’s destruction of a van that rolled over during an accident which Plaintiffs claimed was caused by a brake malfunction. The case is Brobbey v. Enterprise Leasing Company of Chicago (1st Dist. 2010, No. 1-08-3474).
Prior to filing suit, Plaintiffs put Enterprise on notice of their potential claim regarding the brake malfunction. After conducting its own tests, Enterprise later responded and offered Plaintiffs the opportunity to inspect the van if they responded within seven (7) days. When Plaintiffs failed to respond, Enterprise released the van, which was sold at auction to Lombard Auto Wreckers 17 days later. LAW subsequently destroyed the van. Plaintiffs filed suit 18 months later.
The trial court dismissed the spoliation of evidence claim, but the Appellate Court reversed, allowing the claim to proceed.
Under Illinois law, spoliation of evidence is a form of negligence; proof of spoliation requires a showing that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to preserve evidence, breached that duty, and thereby proximately caused the plaintiff to be unable to prove the underlying cause of action. Boyd v. Travelers Insurance Co., 166 Ill. 2d 188, 194-95, 652 N.E.2d 267, 270 (1995).
In its ruling, the Court in Brobbey held that “[a] plaintiff in a negligence case based upon spoliation of evidence need only allege that a reasonable person in the defendant’s position should have foreseen that the evidence in question was material to a potential civil action. There is no requirement that the plaintiff allege the existence of any ‘special relationship’ which would give rise to that knowledge . . . . A duty extends to particular evidence if a reasonable person should have foreseen that the evidence was material to a potential civil action.”
Ultimately, the Court held that Enterprise had offered an insufficient amount of time for Plaintiffs to respond to the inspection offer. As a result, the Plaintiffs will be able to go to trial on the spoliation claim along with their negligence claim.