Dismissal of professional negligence claim was the appropriate sanction for spoliation of evidence.
The plaintiffs Peter and Judith Papadoplos filed a professional negligence claim against their former attorney and his firm after Attorney Ronca failed to timely file a civil claim against either the hospital or manufacturer of a medical device which injured Judith Papadoplos while she was being treated for injuries following a motor vehicle accident. The defendants contended that the plaintiffs' professional negligence claim was time-barred and commenced discovery efforts pertaining to the statute of limitations defense. After Mr. Papadoplos' 2008 deposition testimony revealed that he kept a computer file in which he maintained notes of conversations he had with his wife pertaining to their various lawsuits, the trial court granted the defendants' motion for sanctions and ordered production of the hard drive in its native state for forensic examination. The plaintiffs sought a protective order to preclude such discovery, revealing that the old hard drive had, in fact, been destroyed. The defendants filed a second motion for sanctions, arguing that destruction of the hard drives had never been raised by the plaintiffs prior to the trial court's order requiring them to produce it. The trial court ruled that there was "clear and convincing evidence that knowing and willful spoliation of pertinent evidence" had occurred and dismissed the plaintiffs' claims with prejudice. On appeal, the plaintiffs claimed, inter alia, that the trial court had raised the issue of spoliation sua sponte and that they were, therefore, unduly prejudiced by a lack of notice to defend such a claim. The Superior Court disagreed and affirmed the trial court's order, noting that the defendants raised the issue of spoliation at several points in their Motions for Sanctions; that the defendants specifically requested dismissal of the plaintiffs' claims as a sanction for destroying evidence subject to the trial court's order; and that the plaintiffs, therefore, had ample notice and opportunity to defend. This matter was handled at the trial level by Tim McMahon of our Harrisburg office and at the appellate level by Audrey Copeland of our King of Prussia office.
Case Law Alert - 4th Qtr 2011