The Texas Supreme Court has clarified the standards for spoliation (in Texas). The rule is that Texas has a two-step process: (1) the Trial Court must determine, as a question of law, whether a party spoliated evidence, and (2) if spoliation occurred, the Court must assess an appropriate remedy. Brookshire Bros., Ltd. v. Aldridge, 2014 Tex. LEXIS 562, 3-4 (Tex. July 3, 2014).
This Allemande Left and Do So Do requires a Trial Court to find that (1) the spoliating party had a duty to reasonably preserve evidence, and (2) the party intentionally or negligently breached that duty by failing to do so. Brookshire Bros., Ltd., at *3. This is to be done outside the presence of the jury, so the accused party is not swung around before the jurors, causing any prejudicial effect by the presentation of evidence that is unrelated to the facts underlying the lawsuit. Id. (and memories of 7th grade square dancing).
The jury is to only hear evidence of spoliation that is related to the lawsuit. If there is spoliation, the then Trial Court can craft a proportionate remedy based upon the level of culpability of the spoliating party and the degree of prejudice, if any, suffered by the nonspoliating party. Brookshire Bros., Ltd., at *4.
The facts of the Texas case involved video footage at a grocery store of a slip and fall. The Plaintiff slipped at the store and reported the incident the following day after going to the emergency room. The store saved video of the fall, starting from before the Plaintiff entered and left the premises. The video lasted 8 minutes. However, the rest of the video was deleted per the company’s data destruction policy after 30 days. Brookshire Bros., Ltd. at *6-7.
The Texas Supreme Court held that a party must intentionally spoliate evidence in order for a spoliation instruction to constitute an appropriate remedy. Brookshire Bros., Ltd. at *31.
The Court held that the deletion of the video for the entire day of the incident did not justify the jury spoliation jury instruction. Furthermore, the video showing the actual fall was presented to the jury. Brookshire Bros., Ltd. at *46-47. The Court found that the failure to preserve additional video footage did not irreparably deprive Plaintiff of any meaningful ability to present his claim. Brookshire Bros., Ltd. at *47-48. The issuing of the spoilation jury instruction was an abuse of the Trial Court’s discretion. Brookshire Bros., Ltd. at *48.
Bow Tie Thoughts
The preservation of electronic evidence is a challenge for many attorneys. Litigants cannot preserve “everything” in a company at the first sign of litigation. The trick is preserving what is relevant. This becomes a question on the scope of discovery.
Could the Defendants in this case have copied a half hour before the incident and a half hour after? Sure. Some companies might do that. Others might not. Whether that is reasonable would turn on the facts of the case on whether that data needed to be preserved.
Texas lawyers know a few things about spoliation. First, it is based in evidence, opposed to a cause of action. Second, Judges should not let the facts over data preservation be presented to the jury to avoid any prejudicial effect. If there is an actual issue of spoliation, then the Court must determine the remedy before going to the jury.
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg from 2013 to 2016 and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.