Limitations on the Presentation of Evidence in West Virginia Negligence Cases – Sneberger v. Morrison

It is no small secret that courts throughout the country struggle to keep litigation moving forward in a log-cabin-1375738-1279x850time-efficient manner and to reduce backlogs of cases and disputes yet to be resolved.  Many litigants now wait years to have their claims heard, all the while unable to move forward with their lives.  At the same time, courts must be careful not to deny any individual their day in court, or the right to present evidence that they believe supports their case.  For these reasons, one of the most significant challenges for the judiciary, and for those who are parties to litigation, is how to weigh the need for judicial efficiency against the right of every party to a fair trial.  Often, as a matter of necessity, time constraints must be imposed on the amount of information that can be presented to the court, and the length of time that a trial can go on.  A recent case in the Supreme Court of Appeals for West Virginia considers the appropriateness of limitations meant to restrict the amount of time a party has to present his or her argument.

In Sneberger v. Morrison, Ms. Sneberger made an oral agreement with Mr. Morrison to construct a primitive log home on her property. Mr. Morrison was not a contractor, but he offered to build the home for $140,000 based on her requests and specifications. After construction began, Ms. Sneberger began to notice problems with the home, including spaces between the logs, a sagging roof, and improper building of the fireplace. She eventually fired Mr. Morrison and hired a new contractor, who had to re-do a substantial portion of Mr. Morrison’s work because it was unsafe.  Ms. Sneberger sued Mr. Morrison on various claims, including negligence. At trial, the jury awarded Ms. Sneberger $40,000 on her negligence claims, but it also found that she was partially at fault and comparatively negligent. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Sneberger appealed.

On appeal, Ms. Sneberger argued that the trial court improperly limited the amount of time that she had to present witness testimony to the jury. Based on the statements of the parties, the trial court had set the trial for three days. Once the trial began, the parties began to believe that more than three days would be needed to present evidence. However, the trial court decided to limit the trial to three days and to split the time equally between both parties. In total, Ms. Sneberger had five and a half hours to examine her witnesses. According to Ms. Sneberger’s appeal, although the trial court had the authority to limit the trial time, it should have given her more time because she had the burden of proof as the plaintiff.

Upon reviewing the record, the appeals court held that the trial court was well within its discretion to limit the trial to three days. At the pretrial conference, the court specifically asked the parties how long they believed the trial would take, and both agreed to a three-day trial. Moreover, upon deciding to split the time equally between the two parties, Ms. Sneberger never objected to such a calculation or made an argument that she needed more time.  Finally, Ms. Sneberger had sufficient time to present rebuttal witnesses and could not identify any key evidence that she was unable to present.  Accordingly, the appeals court denied the appeal on this basis.

Crafting a solid and time-sensitive trial strategy is an integral part of any successful personal injury claim. Our West Virginia personal injury lawyers have been representing clients in the courtroom for more than 25 years and have the organizational and strategic skills to effectively advocate on your behalf in the courtroom. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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