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November 4, 2007

New York Court of Appeals Does Not Recognize A New Tort for a Third-Party's Negligent Spoliation of Evidence

Last month, the New York Court of Appeals in Ortega v. City of New York refused to expand MetLife
Auto & Home v Joe Basil Chevrolet
and determined that a cause of action for a third party's negligent spoliation of evidence is not cognizable in this State.  As New York Civil Law wrote in prior posts, this case was riddled with unexplained issues. 

The plaintiffs were severely burned when one of the plaintiffs' automobiles caught fire for an unexplained reason.  One of the plaintiffs obtained a pre-action order for the City of New York (a third-party not responsible for the automobile fire) to preserve the subject automobile for inspection; however, the automobile was destroyed.  The plaintiffs commenced an action against the City based on spoliation and contempt of court.

Supreme Court, Kings County in its decision recognized the viability of an independent cause of action for spoliation.  The Appellate Division, Second Department rejected in their opinion the plaintiffs' contention that they could recover damages for spoliation of evidence against the third party.

The Court of Appeals agreed, carefully analyzing why recognizing such a tort was not viable and would lead to too much speculation for the jury.  Perhaps the most interesting part of the decision was the Court's observation that not every wrong can have a remedy.

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