A party may be barred from introducing evidence as a sanction for spoliation of evidence that prevents its adversary from establishing its case. Am. Fam. Ins. v. Black & Decker, 3:00cv50281, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, September 16, 2003.
On May 27, 1996, a fire occurred in the home of Jack and Susan Dunn. The Dunns insured their home through American Family Insurance Company (American Family). A fire investigator concluded that the fire originated from a toaster oven on a counter in the kitchen. The same counter also contained a coffee maker, a tea maker, a cappuccino maker, two electrical receptacles and a switch for the garbage disposal. American Family paid the Dunns their claim for fire damage and sought to recover from Black & Decker for the damage caused by the toaster oven. Black & Decker was not notified of the fire until October 7, 1997. By that time, Black & Decker was unable to conduct a useful investigation of the fire because the Dunns had renovated their kitchen and none of the other appliances had been preserved. Jack Dunn had died since the fire and an audiotape of his statement regarding the fire had been destroyed. Black & Decker moved to have American Family barred from introducing certain evidence as a sanction for “spoliation of evidence.” The court granted Black & Decker’s motion. It held that American Family had a duty to properly preserve evidence it knew would be relevant to future litigation. Because American Family failed to properly preserve evidence that might have been an alternate cause of the fire, it had deprived Black & Decker of the ability to conduct its own investigation in its defense. The court prohibited American Family from introducing evidence regarding the cause of the fire.