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Case of the Month
February 208

Case Overview

Carolyn Bair Austin, Individually and as Personal Representative of the
Estate of Robert Jacob Bair, deceased, Appellant, v. Beaufort County
Sheriff’s Office, Respondent

The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office conducted an investigation into the death of appellant’s son. During the investigation, certain evidence was collected and retained by that office. The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office determined the death was caused by a self-induced cocaine overdose and closed the case. However, the deceased’s step-father believed the deceased had been the victim of an assault. A little over a year after the deceased’s death, the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department destroyed the evidence collected in its investigation of the deceased’s death.

Appellant, the mother of the deceased, brought this action in the court of common pleas in Beaufort, against the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department, for the destruction, or spoliation, of evidence which interfered with a prospective wrongful death claim arising from the death of the deceased. The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing South Carolina does not recognize a claim for spoliation of evidence against a party who is not connected to the case in which the evidence was to be used. The judge granted the motion for summary judgment.

Appellant has now filed an appeal in which she argues the judge erred in finding there can be no cause of action for spoliation of evidence against someone who is not connected to the case in which the evidence was to be used. Appellant argues such an action is recognized in West Virginia and should be recognized in this state as well because it is reflective of South Carolina law. The South Carolina Supreme Court heard arguments in this case on Wednesday, February 6, 2008.


Case Briefs

Final Brief of Appellant

Final Reply Brief of Appellant

  Final Brief of Respondent

 


Oral Arguments

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