October 2013 Bonus Case Summaries: New York: Commonly Occurring Incidents Trigger a Duty to Preserve

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Taylor v. City of New York, 2013 WL 4744806 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 4, 2013).   In this criminal law case, the plaintiff moved for sanctions for spoliation of video footage of a fight between prison inmates. Generally, when a potential defendant knows certain types of incidents trigger litigation, there is a duty to preserve. The defendants maintained they did not have a duty to preserve the footage, and even if they did, that the automatic deletion of the tape was not purposeful spoliation. The court held that in this situation, the defendants knew it was likely the victim would sue the defendants and claim it was the defendants’ fault. Therefore, it was reasonable for the defendants to be on notice to preserve within a week following the incident. The scope of the duty of preservation should have extended to all footage of the victim’s cell block around the time of the incident. Because the defendants should have known the footage was crucial to the investigation, the court found the defendants negligent and imposed sanctions in three forms: (1) the testimony of the only viewer of the video tape, one of the defendants, was precluded from proceedings; (2) an adverse interference instruction was permitted and (3) the defendants were ordered to pay attorney’s fees and costs.