Garcia v. Awerbach

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Justia Opinion Summary

The Supreme Court reversed the district court's order sua sponte modifying a discovery sanction in this negligence case, holding that the district court committed legal error by modifying the sanction and that the timing of the modification was prejudicial.

Appellant was injured in a collision with Respondent's son. Appellant filed a complaint against Respondent alleging negligent entrustment and liability and against both Respondent and her son for punitive damages. At issue was whether Respondent permitted her son to drive the vehicle on the day of the accident. During discovery, Respondent produced a requested insurance claims file but redacted a claims note pertinent to the permissive use issue. The district court judge granted a discovery sanction against Respondent that established permissive use as a matter of law. Subsequently, a new judge sua sponte determined that establishing permissive use as a matter of law was unfair because it would prevent Respondent from defending against Appellant's punitive damages claim. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for a new trial, holding (1) permissive use, established as a matter of law, does not prevent a defendant from defending a claim for punitive damages; and (2) the timing of the district court's modification of the discovery sanction was prejudicial, as trial had begun.

Primary Holding
The Supreme Court reversed the district court's order sua sponte modifying a discovery sanction, holding that the district court committed legal error by modifying the sanction and that the timing of the modification was prejudicial.

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