Thursday, January 26, 2006

S.C. Court of Appeals issues spoliation of evidence opinion

In Stokes v. Spartanburg Regional Medical Center, the Court of Appeals considered the trial court's failure to give a spoliation of evidence instruction and a resulting verdict in favor of the hospital in this medical malpractice action. During discovery it was learned that a vital signs flow chart and a blood sample were missing. One of plaintiff's requested charges was a "spoliation of evidence" charge, which allowed jurors to draw a negative inference if it found the Hospital's explanation regarding the missing records unsatisfactory. The trial judge agreed to the charge, and the Hospital did not object. However, when it came time to charge the jury, the trial judge failed to give the "spoliation of evidence" instruction. Plaintiff objected, but the court overruled the objection, explaining: "That charge I have some problems with this."

The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court erred, remanded for a new trial, and indicated that the following language would be appropriate for a spoliation charge in South Carolina:

I charge you that when a party fails to preserve material evidence for trial, it is for you to determine whether the party has offered a satisfactory explanation for that failure. If you find the explanation unsatisfactory, you are permitted--but not required--to draw the inference that the evidence would have been unfavorable to the party's claim.

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