Strong and Hanni’s Appellate Practice Group is coming off several major wins.
First, in Anderson-Wallace v. Rusk, 2021 UT App 10, Stuart Schultz and Spencer Brown successfully appealed a $1.85 million dollar verdict against the firm’s client. That case involved a collision between a semitruck and an intoxicated man whose family claimed he was walking along I-15 late at night. The semi driver and a witness both claimed the man ran in front of the truck, committing suicide.
The district court excluded evidence that the man was found with a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit, and the jury found the truck driver and trucking company liable for his death. The Utah Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and awarded our client a new trial. It held that the fact that the deceased man was intoxicated was relevant and probative to our client’s defense. The client should have been allowed to put on that evidence to prove the man’s comparative fault, and to disprove the amount of his family’s damages. The plaintiff petitioned for certiorari to the Utah Supreme Court, but the Court denied the petition.
Second, in Archer v. Mills, 2021 WY 75A, Spencer Brown successfully defended summary judgment and dismissal of a wrongful death case on appeal. There, our trial team had filed a motion for summary judgment that the court-appointed wrongful death representative decided not to oppose. The wrongful death representative then agreed to dismiss her lawsuit against the firm’s client. Two of the decedent’s heirs, who were not appointed as the decedent’s wrongful death representative, objected to the dismissal and moved to intervene. The district court denied their motion.
On appeal, the Wyoming Supreme Court affirmed. The court ruled that only the court-appointed wrongful death representative was authorized to make decisions about litigation, including whether to voluntarily dismiss a case. The heirs could have moved to intervene in the appointment action, but did not. So they could not object to the dismissal of the case.
Finally, in Diversified Concepts LLC v. Koford, 2021 UT App 71, Spencer Brown and Jack Smart successfully appealed a district court’s refusal to award sanctions for the plaintiff’s intentional destruction of evidence.
In that case, the plaintiffs were homeowners who hired our client to build several retaining walls. They were dissatisfied with the work. They removed our client from the project and threatened to sue. But before doing so, they completely dismantled all of the retaining walls, hired an expert witness to document the process, and then rebuilt them. After the homeowners sued, our trial team moved for sanctions for destruction of evidence. The district court denied our motion because, it determined, our client should have done more to demand that the plaintiffs preserve the retaining walls.
The Utah Court of Appeals Reversed. It held that the Plaintiffs could only destroy evidence in their possession, like the retaining walls, if they had a legitimate need to do so and if they gave the defendant notice and a full and fair opportunity to inspect or preserve the evidence. Notice should include express notice of the reason for the destruction, the manner of the destruction, and the date and time of the destruction, as well as an invitation to inspect the evidence and participate in or observe the destruction. The plaintiffs had done none of these things.
The Court remanded the case to the district court to determine the appropriate sanction for destruction of evidence.
We are excited about the appellate practice group’s recent success. While there is no guaranteed outcome on appeal, it always feels good to get a win and a streak of favorable outcomes helps us build toward more success in our future cases. If you would like to consult about appellate issues in your case, please contact Spencer Brown or Scarlet Smith to discuss.
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