Cases sink or swim based on the facts and evidence. Accordingly, it is paramount to ensure that you have a clear understanding of the facts, especially from the discovery process. There are circumstances, however, where a party to the case or a third party destroys evidence. Legally, this can result in severe evidentiary rulings.
Spoliation is the intentional destruction, mutilation or concealment of evidence. If a party has intentionally spoiled evidence — indicating fraud and a desire to suppress the truth — that party is subject to an adverse evidentiary inference. Baugher v. Gates Rubber Co., Inc., 863 S.W.2d 905, 907 (Mo. Ct. App. 1993). An adverse evidentiary inference is when a judge/jury can make the conclusion that the spoiled evidence was unfavorable to the spoiling party.
Less clear is whether an independent lawsuit for damages grounded in spoliation of evidence can be sustained. As of this writing, few jurisdictions have adopted a tort for spoliation of evidence and Missouri courts has yet to formally endorse such a claim.
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