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Court of Appeals Spoils Plaintiff’s Cause of Action-Davis Dissents

Posted on Monday, May 14, 2018

In Teel v Allstate Insurance, 284 Mich App 660 (2009), the Court of Appeals held that Michigan does not recognize a cause of action for spoliation of evidence. In Teel, Plaintiff lost his wife in an apartment fire. While he was in the hospital recovering, Plaintiff’s landlord permitted an Allstate Insurance Co. representative into the apartment. Contrary to statute, Plaintiff did not receive notice that the inspector would be allowed into the apartment. During the inspection, the investigator removed items from the apartment and altered the scene. Plaintiff alleged that these actions resulted in spoliation of evidence of the fire’s origin and resulted in hindering Plaintiff’s ability to succeed in litigation against the landlord relating to the fire. The trial court granted summary disposition in favor of Defendant, holding that plaintiff failed to state a claim under which relief could be granted because Michigan did not permit a cause of action for spoliation of evidence.

 

The Court of Appeals agreed. The court reasoned that such a cause of action has not been recognized in Michigan. Additionally, that the courts have no business developing such a cause of action because doing so would require defining the scope of the duty to preserve evidence. Noting that the Legislature has comprehensive Legislation addressing the insurance industry, including more than 1,000 sections in the insurance code evidences the Legislature’s intent to provide for and regulate the rights and remedies available to the public concerning business in the insurance arena. Alternatively, the court reasoned that even if there were such a cause of action in this state, it would be inapplicable in Teel because the Plaintiff failed to show that there were no other remedies available (citing criminal contempt as an example).

 

Judge Davis disagreed. In his dissent, Judge Davis framed the case as one calling for the court to fashion a remedy–not create an entirely new cause of action. Davis stated, “Although the cases in Michigan have, thus far, only addressed spoliation of evidence by litigants, spoliation of evidence is nevertheless recognized as a legally wrongful act. In other words, there is already a well-established right in Michigan of a litigant to the integrity of evidence in a lawsuit. It follows that the courts are not only empowered, but obligated to provide a remedy for violations of that right.” It is too soon to tell whether the Supreme Court will weigh-in on the battle of rights versus remedies.

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