In the chaos following an accident, preservation of evidence is one of the last things that you will probably think about. But, if there is a lawsuit, preservation of what happened is the best way to reconstruct and tell an accurate story. Pictures, videos, and journals at the time of an accident or very soon following are the best way of preserving the story. As time goes by, memories fade or become inaccurate through countless retellings. If too much of the story is forgotten, there is too much guess work for the responsible party to be held accountable. Accurately preserving the story can create a powerful case.
In the recent Idaho Supreme Court case, Liberty Northwest Mutual Insurance Co. et al. v. Spudnik Equipment Co., LLC, the Court affirmed a grant of summary judgment for Spudnik by the trial court in a claim for product liability against one of the manufacturers. In Liberty Mutual, a worker was injured by a series of potato conveyor belts, but the insurance company did not accurately capture which conveyor or the condition of the conveyor. In reaching its conclusion, the Court determined that Liberty was unable to show which of the potato conveyors actually caused the injury that gave rise to the lawsuit. Liberty was also unable to show the configuration of the particular conveyors on that day that caused injury.
Liberty only recorded the serial number of one of the seven potato conveyors on site and failed to accurately document which conveyor actually caused the injury. Specifically, there was no evidence to show whether the conveyor that caused the injury was new, used, modified by a previous owner or current owners. Therefore, the court concluded, there was no way to show that there was a design problem with Spudnik's potato conveyor.
With a complex accident, as demonstrated in Liberty Mutual or even a basic fender bender, an accurate preservation and documentation of what actually caused the injury is important. Had photos been taken of the actual configuration of conveyors that caused injury, the proper question could have been possible presented to the jury: Did the design of this particular conveyor injure the plaintiff. Instead, Liberty Mutual tried to present a vague story: one of these conveyors injured the plaintiff and one of them was manufactured by Spudnik. Preservation of a story can remove the speculation when trying to later apportion fault. It can clearly show a jury what caused the injury and who was responsible for that injury.