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Insurer Prevails Proving That Spoliation of Evidence is Like Riding a Bike

Motor Vehicle Litigation / July 23, 2020

This case illustrates that the Court of Appeals gives the trial court discretion with respect to its basis for imposing sanctions, particularly, imposing sanctions when a party destroys, or fails to preserve vital evidence. Plaintiff’s entire PIP claim revolved around whether his motorized bicycle was considered an ORV, moped, or uninsured motorcycle. Plaintiff did not have additional liability coverage required by the No-Fault Act for owning/registering a motorcycle and, in fact, he did not even have any liability insurance. As a result, Plaintiff argued at both the trial court level and on appeal that his motorized bicycle was an ORV. The panel confirmed that the trial court’s record did not establish, as a matter of law, that Plaintiff’s motorized bicycle qualified as an ORV under the No-Fault Act. The sanction of dismissal was warranted in this case regardless of Plaintiff’s intent in failing to preserve the evidence. The panel agreed with the trial court that by denying Defendant insurer the opportunity to inspect Plaintiff’s motorized bicycle, Plaintiff deprived Defendant insurer of the opportunity to develop any evidence to rebut Plaintiff’s testimony regarding the motorized bicycle’s characteristics. As a result, Defendant insurer was placed at an unfair disadvantage. Since the Court of Appeals reasoned that the trial court had a proper basis for dismissal based upon Plaintiff’s spoliation of evidence, the panel did not analyze the merits of the case as to whether a motorized bicycle falls within a specific category of motor vehicle as defined by the No-Fault Act.

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