Spoliation of Evidence and Legal Malpractice
This is a convoluted case, which started as a products liability-fall from a ladder- case, morphed into a legal malpractice case, went to trial and was prematurely dismissed during plaintiff's case, was reversed on appeal and now comes back on a preclusion motion. The problem in Burbige v Siben & Ferber 2012 NY Slip Op 32086(U) July 30, 2012 Sup Ct, Nassau County Docket Number: 010334/07 Judge: Randy Sue Marber is that there is no ladder. In this case, no ladder, no proof that the ladder was defective. Whose fault is it?
"As to the order of preclusion, this Court begins with noting that, here, the Appellate Division has not only directed a new trial but has specifically set forth the evidentiary issue inadequately established at the original trial by the Plaintiff; to wit plaintiff() fail ( ed) to make an offer of proof that he would have been successful in the underlying products liability action by offering expert testimony that the ladder from which he fell was defective. Consequently, the issue becomes whether the Plaintiff should be permitted to now present evidence that it could have properly presented at the first trial, the expert affidavit necessary to establish his success in the underlying products liability action.
Based upon the papers presented for this Court' s consideration, this Court finds that the Plaintiff s failure to disclose his expert was in fact willful and intentional. Indeed the Appellate Division found that the Plaintiff s offer of proof was inadequate and wholly insufficient due to the absence of an expert affidavit demonstrating the merits of the underlying products liability action. Perhaps more critical is the fact that counsel for the Plaintiff, in support of his cross-motion infra again states that "the case law and the circumstances do not war ant the plaintiff to obtain an expert" (Aff. In Supp. Of Cross- Motion 6). Furthermore, the Plaintiff has failed entirely, even at this juncture in opposition
to the Defendants s instant motion, to proffer a reasonable excuse, under the circumstances
for his delay in furnishing name and affidavit of his expert (CPLR ~ 3101 (d) (I); Wartski v. C.W Post Campus of Long Is. Univ. 63 A.DJd 916 917 (2 Dept. 2009)). Moreover the Defendants wil clearly be prejudiced should this Court determination be to permit the Plaintiff to now submit the name and testimony of their expert. Although a new trial has been granted by the Appellate Division and further that the Appellate Division has specifically set forth the evidentiary issue inadequately
established at the original trial, the fact is that the Plaintiff has, nonetheless, failed to meet his burden, under CPLR ~ 3101 that would sufficiently oppose the Defendants' entitlement to preclusion. In fact, the Plaintiff has even failed to establish his burden under 22 NYCRR 202.21 (d) that would permit this Court to award post-note of issue discovery (cf Scanga Family Practice Assocs. of Rockland, P. c., 2006 WL 6822760 (Sup. Ct. Rockland 2006); Bierzynskiv. New York Central Railroad Co. 59 Misc. 2d 315 (Sup. Ct. Erie 1969) aff' d29 2d 804 (1971) rearg. denied 30 N. 2d 790 (1972)).
Counsel for the Plaintiff bases his entire motion on a spoliation of the evidence argument; that is, counsel for the Plaintiff submits that allegedly for more than 16 years counsel for the Defendants, failed to inspect and preserve the defective ladder, failed to obtain expert reports with respect to the defectively manufactured ladder, and effectively destroyed the key physical evidence of the defective ladder prior to the commencement of the Plaintiff s legal malpractice action. Spoliation of evidence is a factual and legal question in this malpractice case involving an underlying products liability claim. Spoliation of evidence occurs where a litigant intentionally or negligently disposes of crucial items of evidence before his or her adversaries have any opportunity to inspect them (Kirkland v. New York City Housing Authority, 236 A. 2d 170 (1st Dept. 1997)).
The underlying action was one sounding in products liability. The Plaintiff claims herein that the product that was alleged to be defectively designed or manufactured the ladder, was negligently or intentionally lost or destroyed subsequent to his accident and before anyone had an opportunity to inspect it. Although the Plaintiff charges his former attorneys in the underlying action, the Defendants herein, with spoliation of evidence, the Plaintiff makes no attempts to show that the ladder in question was ever in the possession of the Defendants or that it existed or was available when they were retained. "