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West Virginia high court rules on truck accident case

Any time that a person is involved in a motor vehicle accident, preservation of the evidence is important for a few different reasons. Pieces of the wreckage, eyewitness accounts and other evidence can help investigators figure out exactly how the accident occurred. In addition, the evidence can support any legal claims that accident victims may pursue.

Time is always of the essence when seeking to preserve this kind of accident evidence. But a recent ruling from the West Virginia Supreme Court could make time an even more critical factor when it comes to litigating truck accident cases.

The case before the state's high court involved a tractor-trailer crash that killed two truck drivers. The fatal accident occurred when one of the drivers lost control of the truck and hit a guardrail. The truck slid down a steep embankment and caught fire, which killed both men inside the truck and destroyed the vehicle.

About 48 hours after the horrific accident, an executive of the truck company directed a tow company to dispose of the wreckage. This meant that a month later, when an attorney for one of the deceased victims notified the truck company to preserve evidence, the pieces of the battered truck were non-existent.

Because the truck wreckage was unavailable, the plaintiffs had no evidence to support their argument that defective auto parts caused the accident. Furthermore, when they went to sue the truck company for intentionally destroying the critical evidence, the court threw out that claim as well. Ultimately the West Virginia Supreme Court agreed with the lower court's ruling about the destruction of evidence claim.

The facts and merits of this case are somewhat difficult to sort through, but the high court's ruling could have a substantial impact on future truck accident claims in the state. In the wake of this ruling, accident victims and their families may have to move faster than ever in seeking legal help to preserve evidence and protect their legal rights. Although the West Virginia Supreme Court's recent decision probably surprised some people, it is binding law on all future West Virginia litigants.

Source: The State Journal, "Spoliation ruling 'reward for reprehensible conduct,' Davis says," Linda Harris, March 20, 2015

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