Tag Archives: Duty to preserve evidence

Inspection of Evidence at Accident Site Does Not Create a Duty to Preserve

By Matthew T. Andris on June 05, 2014 | Posted in Blog

The Illinois Supreme Court recently confirmed that a party owes no affirmative duty to preserve potential evidence in advance of litigation.  In Martin v. Keeley & Sons, Inc., the Plaintiffs, employees of Defendant Keeley, were working to construct a bridge over Maxwell Creek in Randolph County, Illinois.  While they were working, the concrete I-Beam they were standing on rolled, split in two parts, and then crashed into the creek below, injuring several workers.  The Illinois Department of Transportation and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration conducted an investigation of the accident site, including a non-destructive examination of the I-Beam.  The following day, after engineers from Keeley conducted a visual examination of the I-Beam, the beam was removed under the direction of Keeley and salvaged.

Maxwell Creek Bridge

Plaintiffs brought suit against the manufacturer of the I-Beam, the designer of the I-Beam and Keeley.  Plaintiffs’ also sued Keeley for destruction (spoliation) of evidence with respect to the destroyed I-Beam.  The manufacturer and designer ultimately filed counterclaims for spoliation against Keeley.  Keeley filed a motion for summary judgment and the circuit court found that Keeley had no duty to preserve the I-Beam, a decision which was ultimately upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court.

In its decision, the Illinois Supreme Court found that Keeley had no duty to preserve the I-Beam, even though it knew it would likely be a party to future litigation with regard to the I-Beam.  Generally, in Illinois there is no duty to preserve evidence.  However, the Supreme Court previously established an exception to the general no-duty rule if a two prong test is satisfied.  Under the first part of the test, a plaintiff must show that an agreement, contract, statute, special circumstance, or voluntary undertaking has given rise to a defendant’s duty to preserve.  A voluntary undertaking requires a showing of affirmative conduct by the defendant evidencing its intent to voluntarily assume a duty to preserve evidence.  Mere control of the piece of evidence is not sufficient to satisfy the first prong the exception.  The second prong of the exception to the no-duty rule is that a defendant should have foreseen that the evidence was material to a potential civil litigation. Read More…

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