MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Legal Newsline) – On Dec. 7, the Supreme Court of Alabama reversed a decision for summary judgment in a case over a fire at an auto body shop.
Hartung Commercial Properties challenged the summary judgment ruling issued by Mobile Circuit Court in favor of Buffi’s Automotive Equipment. Hartung sued Buffi’s over allegations of negligence and wantonness, alleging Buffi’s repairs caused a fire and destroyed Hartung’s body shop.
The Supreme Court looked at five factors in its decision: the importance of evidence destroyed, Hartung’s culpability, fundamental fairness, alternative sources of information that would be available if the evidence had not been destroyed and the possible impact of other sanctions that would be less daunting than dismissal.
The Supreme Court determined Buffi’s didn’t show enough evidence to prove the first, third and fourth factors. It pointed out Buffi’s was able to contact any party that investigated the scene, snapped pictures and wrote reports on their discoveries.
“Our analysis thus far has touched on the factors related to the importance of the evidence, fundamental fairness, and alternative sources of information,” the Supreme Court said. “Our review of the evidence in light of the two remaining factors – culpability of the offending party and the possibility of sanctions less severe than dismissal – does not convince us that Buffi’s Automotive has nevertheless established that it was entitled to the sanction of dismissal.”
Justice Tommy Bryan authored the opinion. And while he had concerns about the method of the ruling, Justice Brady Mendheim Jr. agreed that Buffi's failed to provide enough evidence to display its case and ultimately concurred with the opinion.
Hartung said Buffi’s conducted repairs to a paint booth inside the body shop that required one of Buffi’s agents/employees to hot wire part of the booth until the actual part came. The fire broke out in 2011 roughly a week after the repair before the correct part arrived.
Buffi’s moved for summary judgment in Circuit Court in September 2013, citing that Hartung demolished the shop without notifying it and giving it the opportunity to inspect the shop and paint booth.
Hartung said more than enough people conducted an investigation, including a local fire department and the insurance company.
The Circuit Court granted summary judgment in Buffi's Automotive's favor in November 2014 based on the spoliation of evidence.