In this week’s Alabama Law Weekly Update, we bring you a case from the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals addressing the obligations of a property owner to retain surveillance recordings of injuries to invitees.
Russell v. East Ala. Health Care Authority, [2140075, August 24, 2015] – So. 3d – (Ala. Ct. Civ. App. 2015) (property owner not required to preserve video-surveillance solely because invitee is injured on the property).
In Russell v. East Ala. Health Care Authority, Ruth Russell alleged the East Alabama Health Care Authority, which operates East Alabama Medical Center (collectively the “Hospital”), negligently maintained the Hospital’s lobby after Ms. Russell slipped on a rug and suffered various injuries while visiting a relative at the Hospital. The trial court held that Ms. Russell failed to demonstrate that the Hospital was negligent in maintaining the premises and granted summary judgment in favor of the Hospital. On appeal Ms. Russell argued that the Hospital engaged in spoliation of evidence because its video-surveillance system allegedly recorded over footage of the incident. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment finding that the Hospital did not engage in spoliation of the evidence.
For an invitee to recover from a property owner for an injury resulting from a defective condition on the property, the invitee must demonstrate that the property owner had notice of the defective condition. Ms. Russell alleged that the Hospital’s surveillance system recorded her fall and the footage would demonstrate that the Hospital would have had notice of the defect in the rug. The Hospital’s recording system stored video for approximately forty days, and by the time the Hospital learned Russell intended to file a claim, the footage was erased when the Hospital’s recording system reached capacity and recorded over the old data.
The issue for the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals was whether the Hospital willfully and purposefully destroyed the footage, thereby engaging in spoliation of the evidence. The court concluded that the trial court correctly determined there was insufficient evidence to establish the Hospital engaged in spoliation of evidence.
In its analysis, the court noted spoliation of evidence requires a showing that the footage was erased intentionally. The Hospital demonstrated that the footage was erased in the ordinary course of its standard practices once the recording system reached capacity. Moreover, the Hospital had no knowledge of the threat of litigation at the time the footage was erased. Concluding the evidence was not intentionally destroyed, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals emphasized property owners are not required to preserve video footage merely because an invitee suffered an injury on the property.