The Key to Winning a West Virginia Car Accident Case? Evidence – Ratliff v. State Farm

In a recent decision, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia provides a good reminder about the importance of providing clear and compelling evidence about how an accident happened when suing for injuries sustained in a car crash.

beachy-feet-1-857585-m.jpgMr. Ratliff was killed in September 2010 in a tragic accident near Petersburg that occurred when the motorcycle he was driving collided with a car driven by Mr. Knight. Ratliff’s estate later filed a claim with State Farm, asserting that the accident was covered under the uninsured motorists’ provision of Ratliff’s auto insurance policy. That provision, according to the Court, provided for benefits of up to $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident in the event that Ratliff was involved in a crash with an uninsured driver. State Farm denied the claim, however, stating that Ratliff wasn’t covered because he was primarily responsible for the accident.

The estate later sued the company for breach of contract and violation of West Virginia’s Unfair Trade Practices Act. Prior to trial, the District Court granted State Farm’s request to strike from the record expert testimony offered by the estate. Kevin Theriault, an accident reconstruction expert, had completed a report on the crash in which he determined that Knight’s car drifted partially into oncoming traffic shortly before the accident occurred. The District Court agreed with State Farm that Theriault’s proposed testimony didn’t meet the requirements for admission as expert evidence.

The court later granted summary judgment to State Farm, finding that the company was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The Court said the estate’s claims weren’t sufficient because they relied on “only speculation and conjecture.” Specifically, the Court said the estate focused on supposed inconsistencies in witness testimony in arguing that a trial was required to determine how the accident actually happened. The Court disagreed. It said all four witnesses – Knight, his wife, and another passenger in the car, as well as a motorist who was behind Knight when the crash happened – testified in depositions that Knight’s car didn’t cross the center line before the accident.

While the estate also raised questions about where Ratliff’s body landed after being thrown from the motorcycle, the Court said any inconsistencies on this issue weren’t enough to require trial. That’s because the issue had no bearing on whether Knight’s car crossed into Ratliff’s lane and caused the collision. “The physical location of Mr. Ratliff’s body, in the eastbound or opposite lane of travel from the vehicles, is insufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that the impact took place in the opposite lane of travel,” the Court said.

As this case shows, it is crucial that a plaintiff in a car accident case present a clear and compelling record of how the crash happened and who caused it. That means turning toward expert accident reconstruction evidence when possible, finding any witnesses to the collision, and investigating their versions of the incident to uncover the truth of what occurred.

If you or a loved one has been injured an accident, the Wolfe Law Firm can help. Our West Virginia car crash lawyers have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of personal injury matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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