The plaintiff in a wrongful death case that had been filed after the death of her husband received some good news last month when an appellate court affirmed a district court’s ruling not to bar the plaintiff from introducing certain evidence at trial. Because of the recent appellate ruling, the case will be remanded to the district court to proceed toward a settlement or trial.
The Plaintiff’s Husband Dies from a Tragic Accident
The plaintiff in the case of Cooper v. Koch is a woman whose husband died in the intensive care unit of a hospital from injuries he suffered about three months before in a single-vehicle accident that was allegedly caused by a catastrophic tread separation involving tires made by the defendant. The vehicle driven by the plaintiff’s husband was totaled. It was towed from the scene of the accident by a towing company that was storing the vehicle for a daily fee. The plaintiff agreed to give the vehicle to a scrapyard after removing the blown tire to keep for evidence in the event of legal action against the defendant. The three other tires and remaining parts of the vehicle were broken up and scrapped or destroyed. At the time, the plaintiff had not filed a case against the defendant.
The Defendant Alleged Spoliation of Evidence Prevented Them from Fairly Defending Against the Claim
The defendant requested an order that the plaintiff be forbidden from introducing certain physical evidence surrounding the failed tire at trial. Specifically, the defendant wanted to prevent the plaintiff from introducing the blown-out tire. The defendant claimed that it needed to inspect the other three tires as well as the vehicle to completely investigate the cause of the crash. The defendant argued that the plaintiff allowed the other evidence to be destroyed at a time she was anticipating litigation in the matter, and she should be prevented from introducing the evidence that she kept.
The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, finding that the plaintiff did not possess enough information when she sold the car to trigger the requirement that she preserve the entire vehicle as evidence for litigation. Although the trial court denied the motion, an immediate certificate of review was issued, permitting the defendant to appeal the decision before the case proceeded to trial.
The Court of Appeals Agrees that Plaintiff Should Not Be Sanctioned
On appeal, the Georgia court of appeals agreed with the trial court’s ruling, holding that the plaintiff was not in a position to know that litigation against an equipment manufacturer would be in her future at the time she agreed to have the vehicle destroyed. The court explained that she was in a position in which she had to pay storage fees for the totaled vehicle, and the court found her decision to keep only the blown tire and scrap the rest of the vehicle was reasonable under the circumstances, since she could not know that the rest of the vehicle could be necessary evidence in any legal action instituted as a result of her husband’s death. As a result of the appellate ruling, the case will return to the trial court and proceed toward a trial, unless the parties reach a settlement before then.
Evidence Spoliation Can Be Fatal to a Plaintiff’s Case
The plaintiff in this case was fortunate that the court did not find her complicit in evidence spoliation. If the defendant’s motion were granted, she may well have lost any right to recover damages from her husband’s death. It may not be foreseeable to accident victims in the weeks and months following a tragic accident that they should retain anything that could be used as evidence in a future case. Therefore, accident victims and their families should consult with a knowledgeable South Florida accident attorney before any evidence is destroyed to be sure that everything needed for the lawsuit will be kept for use as evidence.
Have You Been Injured by a Dangerous or Defective Product?
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in an auto accident caused by faulty equipment or another driver’s negligence, you may have a legal claim for damages against those responsible for your loss. The South Florida car accident attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank have helped hundreds of clients receive the compensation they deserve. Life after a tragic accident can be extremely difficult for the victims and their families. Retaining a skilled attorney can minimize the stress and difficulties that come with pursuing a claim after an accident. Contact us for a free consultation with a South Florida accident attorney to discuss your personal injury or wrongful death case today. Call our office at 877-448-8585 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation.
More Blog Posts:
Rejection of Plaintiff’s Slip-and-Fall Case Affirmed by Appellate Court on Review, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published December 28, 2016.
School Authorities Received Multiple Complaints About Bus Driver Prior to Tragic Fatal Accident, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published December 6, 2016.