Fire Expert Witness On Spoliation of Evidence

In Evidence – Handle With Care, fire expert witness and Principal of PyroCop Inc., Robert Rowe writes:

“Spoliation of evidence” as defined in the National Fire Protection’s Guide to Fire and Explosion Investigations (NFPA 921), is “the loss, destruction, or material alteration of an object or document that is evidence or potential evidence in a legal proceeding by one who has the responsibility for its preservation.”

“Spoliation” may occur when evidence is moved, modified, or destroyed during examination and/or destructive testing. Therefore, extreme care must be taken during the examination of a fire scene as any action on the part of the fire expert that impairs the opportunity of other interested parties (other fire experts, attorneys, etc.) to obtain the same “evidentiary value from the evidence.

If a fire expert is not careful with the evidence he or she may have collected or handled at the fire scene, it is not beyond the court to impose discovery or monetary sanctions, exclude expert testimony, dismiss a claim or defense or even prosecute the expert under criminal statutes relating to obstruction of justice.