Wednesday, March 12, 2008

South Carolina Supreme Court hints that SC might recognize tort for spoliation of evidence

In Austin v. Beaufort County, Austin sued the sheriff's department after the department destroyed evidence related to the drug overdose of Austin's son. Austine claimed she was entitled to damages because the destruction of evidence impaired her ability to bring a wrongful death action. In an amended complaint, Austin explained her theory regarding her son's death as follows: “On July 25, 2001, decedent was assaulted by unknown assailants who inflicted bodily injuries and a fatal dose of drugs on decedent.” The trial court granted summary judgment and the Supreme Court affirmed. In affirming, the Court hinted that SC law might recognize a tort claim for spoliation.

Under the particular facts of the instant case, it is clear that appellant’s allegations do not rise to the level of stating a claim. First, although appellant contends there is a potential wrongful death action, no tortfeasor has been identified, beyond the “unknown assailants” mentioned in the complaint. Therefore, it is merely speculative that a potential civil action for wrongful death exists. Second, it obviously follows that the Sheriff’s Office, could not have actually known of the potentiality of a lawsuit, especially given the fact that the Sheriff’s Office apparently concluded that Bair’s drug overdose had been self-inflicted. Certainly, appellant never notified the Sheriff’s Office of the fact that she sought to pursue a civil lawsuit related to her son’s death.

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