I remember learning about spoliation in law school. I never imagined how frequently these issues would affect my law practice. Particularly in truck accident cases where defendants seem to lose everything imaginable. Spoliation, for non-lawyers and new lawyers, is when the defendant purposefully or stupidly destroys evidence that it knows or should know would be relevant evidence at trial. Under Maryland law, there are many means to deter, penalize, and ameliorate the prejudicial effects of spoliation. The most common weapons, evidence sanctions, and/or corrective jury instructions, are available to Maryland trial judges as remedies to deal with acts of spoliation. These judges have wide discretion to deal with these parties that destroy evidence.
In Miller v. Montgomery County, 494 A.2d 761 (Md. App. 1985), the Maryland Court of Special Appeals explained that the destruction or alteration of evidence by a party to a lawsuit may give rise to inferences or presumptions unfavorable to the spoliator. What is the inference or presumption? That is up to the trial court who has wide discretion to fashion a remedy. The biggest factor is the intent or motivation of the destroying party. But make no mistake, notwithstanding Black’s Law Dictionary’s definition, a spoliation instruction in Maryland may be appropriate even if the party who lost or destroyed the evidence lacked malicious intent.
Maryland courts have not hesitated to fashion a remedy in the form of sanctions for spoliation of evidence. Klupt v. Krongard, 728 A.2d 727, 738 (Md. App. 1999). The ultimate sanction of dismissal or default when spoliation may be imposed when the spoliation involves: (1) a deliberate act of destruction; (2) discoverability of the evidence; (3) an intent to destroy the evidence; (4) occurrence of the act at a time after suit has been filed, or, if before, at a time when filing is fairly perceived as imminent.
You can learn more about these to key Maryland spoliation opinions here.