June 21, 2021
On May 18, 2021, Senior Associate Brian P. McLaughlin presented to the Partners and Associates of London Fischer on the issue of spoliation of evidence. This presentation encompassed the evolving caselaw governing its application, as well as distinctions in the application of the doctrine between the state and federal courts. This presentation, which is part of London Fischer’s ongoing training and mentoring program, identified the basic elements of spoliation at both the state and federal level, and provided attorneys with practical tips for evidence preservation and tactics to use when dealing with adversarial parties or one’s own clients. Mr. McLaughlin further explained that the application of the “culpable state of mind” standard is of diminished significance in the NY state courts but has been the subject of recent updates to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which apply more severe sanctions for intentional spoliation. Recent court decisions on the subject have shown that, despite the broad definition of relevance at both the state and federal levels, there are some limits on the scope of materials a party is duty-bound to preserve is not unlimited. Nonetheless, best practices are to counsel clients to preserve as much evidentiary material as possible, particularly since spoliation sanctions can be extremely damaging a client’s otherwise legally supportable position. For instance, even one of the more lenient sanctions, an adverse inference charge, can essentially preclude a party from prevailing on summary judgment before the motion is even made, as it inherently subjects an entire category of evidence to a question of fact. Finally, Mr. McLaughlin shared personal experience in dealing with both sides of the spoliation issue in recent litigation, identifying key lessons avoiding spoliation pitfalls, as well as touchstone court decisions for the London Fischer attorneys to highlight in disputes concerning a spoliation issue. The application of the principals and methods outlined by Mr. McLaughlin provided valuable insight in proper evidence preservation and protection, by demonstrating the scope of spoliation, as well as the statues and caselaw that influence its application.