On April 9, 2018, Chief District Court Judge Clay D. Land of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia issued an order rejecting the plaintiff’s request for spoliation sanctions.
Under Judge Land’s ruling, “even if” the defendant “did wrongfully fail to preserve” the evidence, the existence of another type of evidence providing similar information meant there was no “uncurable prejudice” and that “the practical importance of [the destroyed evidence] is low.”
The dispute stems from a roadway accident in which a tractor trailer associated with FedEx ran off the road. The plaintiff was parked in an emergency lane helping a disabled driver when the veering truck struck the plaintiff’s car and injured the plaintiff. The plaintiff requested data from Omnitracs, a system containing information on the status of FedEx truck drivers such as when they sleep, drive, stay on-duty without driving, or go off-duty. Such data would potentially have assisted with the plaintiff’s personal injury claims. In discovery, it became clear that FedEx had failed to preserve the relevant Omnitracs data, allowing the system to automatically erase the data after 180 days. However, another system used by FedEx, Pro Detail, tracks driving time of FedEx drivers using GPS, and FedEx had successfully preserved the relevant Pro Detail data.
"Even if” the defendant “did wrongfully fail to preserve” the evidence, the existence of another type of evidence providing similar information meant there was no “uncurable prejudice” and that “the practical importance of [the destroyed evidence] is low."
The fact of FedEx’s failure to preserve relevant data was not in dispute; indeed, the court stated that “FedEx’s risk and legal departments did not instruct Omnitracs to preserve” the data. The court considered five factors when determining whether to award sanctions for spoliation: (i) whether the plaintiff was prejudiced; (ii) whether the prejudice is curable; (iii) “the practical importance” of the destroyed data; (iv) the good or bad faith of the relevant actor; and (v) “the potential for abuse if sanctions are not granted.”
With the availability of the GPS data for the driver, the court held that the “severe” sanctions requested by the plaintiff (either to strike FedEx’s answer or prohibit FedEx from contesting the plaintiff’s evidence on liability and punitive damages) were not warranted in this case. In a footnote, the court conceded that the substitute data did not indicate time when the driver was on-duty but not driving. But “[b]ased on the present record, it would have been rare for a truck driver like Kelly” to have been on-duty but not driving for long enough to violate the regulation at issue. (Emphasis added.) The court declined to issue sanctions.
The case is Barrett v. FedEx Custom Critical, Inc., No. 3:17-CV-62 (CDL) (M.D. Ga. Apr. 9, 2018). A copy of the opinion can be found here.