In Mueller v. Bull’s Eye Sports Shop (2020AP978), the District IV Court of Appeals upheld the circuit court’s sanction for spoliation of evidence.
Tyler Mueller was injured while hunting when a gun he was carrying, owned by his brother Jordan Mueller, discharged accidentally. Tyler sued Bull’s Eye Sports Shop, which assembled the gun and sold it to Jordan, alleging negligence. The store brought a third-party claim against Jordan, alleging that his negligence caused Tyler’s injuries; Tyler later filed a similar claim against Jordan.
Although Jordan was immediately aware of the incident in which Tyler was injured and later became aware of potential litigation over the matter, Jordan had the gun materially altered, and part of the gun was missing when the matter went to court. Both Tyler and Bull’s Eye asked the court to sanction Jordan for spoliation of evidence.
Before the court issued a ruling, Tyler and Jordan entered into an agreement to release Jordan from the action. The court found that Jordan intentionally spoliated evidence and held that, as a sanction, the trial jury would be instructed that they may draw an adverse inference against Jordan regarding the spoliated evidence. Bull’s Eye appealed.
On appeal, Bull’s Eye argued that the circuit court should have dismissed Tyler’s claims entirely as a sanction for Jordan’s spoliation of evidence. The appellate court rejected this argument, noting that Wisconsin law only allows for dismissal as a sanction when a party spoliates evidence in an egregious manner. The court held that “here, there is no finding of the circuit court, and no evidence, that any action by Tyler either spoliated evidence or was egregious.”
Bull’s Eye also argued that Jordan’s intentional spoliation of evidence required him to indemnify the store for any negligent conduct on its part that may have caused Tyler’s injuries. Furthermore, Bull’s Eye argued that because of the agreement to release Jordan from the action, his conduct is imputed to Tyler, meaning Tyler would have to indemnify Bull’s Eye and the claims would be dismissed. The court rejected this claim: “Bull’s Eye fails to establish that Jordan, a tortfeasor whose alleged negligent tortious conduct contributed to Tyler’s injuries and who also engaged in intentional spoliation of evidence, must indemnify an allegedly negligent joint tortfeasor, Bull’s Eye.”
This opinion was recommended for publication in the official reports.