An individual is injured in an automobile accident. He wants to file a products liability suit against the manufacturer of the tires on his car. However, his insurance company has disposed of the car and the tires. Can the injured person sue his insurance company for having negligently destroyed important evidence?
The Georgia Court of Appeals answered “no” in Phillips v. Owners Ins. Co., Case No. A17A0251 (decided June 29, 2017). Shortly after his auto accident, Mr. Phillips settled his claim for vehicle damage with his own insurance company, Owners Insurance Company. Mr. Phillips’ attorney had sent a letter to the insurance adjuster confirming that the insurance company had agreed to notify Mr. Phillips’ attorney if any change was made in the storage location of the vehicle. As a part of the settlement, Owners took title to the car and stored it for over a year and a half. However, when faced with additional storage charges, Owners released its hold on the vehicle, and it was sold. Owners did not notify Mr. Phillips or his attorney that the vehicle had been sold.
Mr. Phillips sued Owners for negligence, breach of contract and promissory estoppel. The Georgia Court of Appeals held that Georgia would not recognize a cause of action against a third-party for the negligent destruction of evidence. The Court believed that a party in Mr. Phillips’ position had other alternatives, such as securing a court order to preserve the evidence or asserting a claim for breach of contract against the party that had agreed to hold the evidence.
This decision puts the onus on potential plaintiffs to either take custody of important evidence or make contracts with the parties holding that evidence to maintain it.
The Opinion is available at the Court’s website.
For more information on this topic, contact your Appellate counsel at Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP.