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Court Discusses Spoliation Sanctions in New York Medical Malpractice Cases

Many people residing in skilled nursing facilities are considered fall risks and require extra care to ensure their safety. If such fall prevention measures are not properly employed, it can result in serious harm. In most cases, plaintiffs pursuing claims against nursing facilities following falls must rely on circumstantial evidence to demonstrate fault, but in some instances, direct evidence, like surveillance footage, exists. If the defendant fails to preserve such evidence, though, it may damage the plaintiff’s claims and may be grounds for instituting sanctions. In a recent New York opinion issued in a medical malpractice case, the court discussed when sanctions are appropriate for spoliation, ultimately determining that they were not warranted. If you or a loved one suffered harm due to the negligence of a doctor, it is smart to speak to a Rochester medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that in October 2013, the decedent entered the defendants’ nursing center. The decedent, wheelchair-bound and suffering from various medical conditions, including dementia, had a history of falls. Despite being considered a high risk for falls, she fell numerous times during her stay, suffering serious harm. The surveillance video capturing her first fall was automatically overwritten two weeks later. The decedent passed away in April 2015 due to aspiration pneumonia and sepsis.

Allegedly, in November 2016, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the defendants asserting medical malpractice and other claims. The plaintiffs then sought spoliation sanctions against the defendants for not preserving the surveillance video. The trial court denied the plaintiff’s motion and granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The plaintiffs appealed.

Grounds for Spoliation Sanctions in Medical Malpractice Cases

On appeal, the court addressed the issue of spoliation, which involves the negligent or intentional destruction of key evidence. In doing so, it noted that to impose sanctions, the party seeking them must demonstrate that the evidence was destroyed with a culpable state of mind and that it was relevant to the claim or defense.

In this case, the court found that the plaintiffs failed to establish that, at the time of overwriting the surveillance footage, the defendants were on notice that the evidence might be needed for future litigation. Therefore, the denial of spoliation sanctions was deemed proper.

Additionally, the court upheld the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Regarding the medical malpractice cause of action, the defendants demonstrated that they did not depart from accepted standards of care, and the plaintiffs’ expert failed to raise a triable issue of fact. Similarly, for the Public Health Law violation claim, the defendants showed they exercised reasonable care, and the plaintiffs’ expert’s allegations were deemed conclusory and unsubstantiated. As such, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Meet with an Experienced Rochester Medical Malpractice Lawyer

Evidence is a key component of establishing liability in any medical malpractice case, and if a party intentionally destroys key information, they may be sanctioned. If you or a loved one were injured by a negligent healthcare provider, it is smart to meet with an attorney. The experienced Rochester medical malpractice attorneys of DeFrancisco & Falgiatano Personal Injury Lawyers can advise you of your options for protecting your interests. You can reach us by calling 833-200-2000 or using our online form to arrange a meeting.

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