Court Denies Defendant’s Motion for Sanctions for Spoliation of Evidence Due to Lack of Intentional Destruction

16 May 2018

In Howard v. Bosch Thermotechnology Corp., Dist. Court (ED Missouri, Feb. 26, 2018), the United States District Court for the Eastern Division in Missouri determined the Plaintiff’s demolition of their burned house was not tantamount to intentional destruction of evidence.

The Howards’ house burned to the ground in November 2013. In this products liability action, they claim that the defective design of a water heater manufactured, designed, and sold by defendant Bosch Thermotechnology Corp. (“Bosch”) caused the fire. Bosch requests sanctions in the form of default judgment against the Howards, arguing that the demolition of what was remaining of the burned home was tantamount to spoliation of evidence because the demolition destroyed evidence that could have shown that the fire was caused by something other than the Bosch water heater.

A Court may dismiss an action as a sanction for spoliation of evidence only if the Court finds Plaintiff intentionally destroyed the evidence. There is no evidence that the Howards intentionally destroyed any evidence in this action. Evidence shows the decision to demolish the rest of the house was made by the fire marshal. The Howards’ decision to retrieve the water heater and no other possible ignition source before demolition was based on the fire marshal’s statement to Thomas Howard at the scene that the water heater appeared to be the source of the fire.  The Court determined Bosch failed to present evidence it was prejudiced—definitely not significantly enough to warrant the penalty requested. Nor is there evidence of any bad faith by the Howards. Motion for sanctions is denied.