Plaintiffs, Terry Martin, Ardith Wynn, and Rickey Vanover were working on a bridge in Sparta Illinois. While working on the bridge, a concrete I-beam used to support the bridge deck which they were on, collapsed, causing them to fall into the creek below and sustain injuries. Keeley, defendant and employer to the plaintiffs, destroyed the I-beam the day after the accident after OSHA and IDOT had inspected the site. The plaintiffs filed suit alleging that Keeley owed a duty to retain the I-beam as evidence and then breached that duty by destroying the I-beam. The trial court ruled that Keeley was not obligated to preserve the beam while the Illinois Appellate Court reversed and ruled that they were obligated.
The case was then reviewed by the Illinois Supreme Court. The general rule in Illinois is that there is no duty to preserve evidence but there is an exception. The plaintiff must show that an agreement, contract, statute, special circumstance, or voluntary undertaking had given rise to a duty to preserve, and that a reasonable person would have foreseen that the evidence was material to a potential civil action. Both parts of this exception must be proven to show a duty. The court noted that Keeley did not show an intention to preserve the I-beam as evidence or acknowledge the significance of it as evidence in potential future litigation. Keeley’s possession and control of the evidence, standing alone, was not sufficient to establish a duty to preserve. Something more than possession and control are required, such as a request by the plaintiff to preserve the evidence and/or the defendant’s segregation of the evidence for the plaintiff’s benefit.
The Supreme Court found no evidence to support the existence of a duty to preserve the I-beam based on a voluntary undertaking by Keeley or other special circumstances. If the plaintiff cannot prove the first part of the two part test, then the claim cannot stand. Therefore, the court reversed the Appellate Court decision.