Law Firm Blog – No Third-Party Spoliation Claim Against Insurer Absent Relationship

Categories: Lawyer Blog Posts.

On August 9, 2011, the Indiana Court of Appeals dealt with the question of when an insurer can be liable for a third-party spoliation claim when evidence is destroyed after the insurer conducts an investigation in Kelley v. Patel, _ N.E.2d _ (Ind. Ct. App. 2011), Cause No. 79A02-1010-CT-1212. The Court’s answer? Rarely.

Indiana Insurance insured an inn owned by the Patels. A fire occurred at the inn, killing a man. One or two days after the fire, an investigator hired by Indiana Insurance, examined the scene and took photographs. He noted the presence of a television, a refrigerator, a lamp, and a VCR/DVD player in the area of greatest fire damage. Four weeks later, the investigator returned to the room and found that all the appliances had been removed from the room. He later testified he did not know where the appliances went or why they were taken.

The decedent’s estate filed an action against the Patels for wrongful death and an action against Indiana Insurance for spoliation. Indiana Insurance sought summary judgment and the trial court granted that motion. The estate appealed.

On appeal, the Court followed the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision in Glotzbach v. Froman, 854 N.E.2d 337, 339 (Ind. 2006), which held that “in the absence of an independent tort, contract, agreement, or special relationship imposing a duty to the particular claimant,” a cause of action for negligent or intentional spoliation of evidence “is not and ought not be recognized in Indiana.” The estate argued that Indiana Insurance should have had a duty because of the seriousness of the facts of this case. The Court disagreed.

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