In Evidence – Handle With Care, fire expert witness and Principal of PyroCop Inc., Robert Rowe writes: Although the
Defendant had since inspected evidence removed from the fire scene, the Defendant was unable to inspect the scene it its original position and urged three possible sanctions applicable to this situation: dismissal, exclusion of Plaintiff’s experts, and an adverse jury instruction. The court granted the Defendant’s Spoliation Motion and the matter was dismissed with prejudice.
What can one do as a fire expert to prevent “spoliation” from occurring? The first priority of every fire expert is to conduct their investigation so as to minimize the loss or destruction of evidence and minimize allegations of spoliation. Prior to touching or moving anything, make sure the evidence is carefully photographed and documented. If the evidence must be moved, as is sometimes required to complete an investigation or to protect the evidence from further damage or theft, it is vital that the evidence is properly packaged, labeled and stored in a secure and controlled location.
Fire experts should always consult with their client regarding the handling of evidence discovered at a fire scene. Additional guidance regarding notification can be found in ASTM (American Standards for Testing and Materials) E 860.