Sanctions Not Warranted For Negligent Failure to Preserve Surveillance Video

Hamilton v. Signature Flight Support Corp., 2005 WL 3481423 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 20, 2005)

In this employment discrimination case, the court decided that sanctions were not warranted for the defendant’s failure to preserve a surveillance video that captured an altercation between one of the plaintiffs and a customer. Although defendant preserved and produced what it claimed to be the only video of the incident, there was a gap in the middle of the tape, and the recording ended prematurely, as the incident appears to continue and the recording abruptly ends.

The court determined that the video was relevant, that defendant had a duty to preserve it, and that defendant had destroyed at least a portion of it. The court found that defendant had acted, at a minimum, in a negligent manner in failing to record the end of the altercation, but that it had not acted willfully. Further, the court found that both sides were prejudiced as a result of the destruction of the surveillance recording, in that the full nature of the altercation was not captured by the retained surveillance footage. However, the court found that plaintiffs had failed to produce any actual evidence of prejudice, by showing either that the retained footage was inaccurate, or that the unretained portion would have been unfavorable to the defendant. Further, the court observed that plaintiff had other evidence available, such as the testimony of witnesses to the incident.

Accordingly, the court denied plaintiffs’ request for an issues sanction finding that defendant did not have good cause to terminate the plaintiff, because it was overreaching and potentially contrary to the evidence. Further, the court rejected lesser sanctions because plaintiffs had not shown that defendant engaged in egregious conduct, and “the facts that [defendant] took efforts to maintain the relevant video and has never attempted to mislead Plaintiffs’ attorneys or the Court about its status show that [defendant] has not engaged in the sanctionable spoliation of evidence.”

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