HELENA – The Montana Highway Patrol found video it said was missing but will still face penalties in a lawsuit from a Wyoming man who accused a trooper of making an illegal U-turn in front of his pickup truck, forcing him into a ditch to avoid a collision and injuring him.
Judge Kathy Seeley ordered sanctions in December 2020, siding with plaintiff Mitch Burgess, after the highway patrol said it lost footage of the 2017 crash. She found the agency at fault in the crash and said a hearing would be held to determine damages. Seeley said at the time that jurors would be instructed that the video would have been unfavorable to the highway patrol’s case.
In April, state attorneys told the court that a sergeant found the video among old files while he was cleaning out a desk belonging to the previous supervisor of the trooper accused in the crash.
The agency then asked to take the case to trial so it could show the video, present expert testimony and let the jury decide who was at fault.
In a ruling last week, Seeley said she would allow the video to be shown and rescind the jury instruction about the video being unfavorable to the highway patrol, the Montana State News Bureau reported. But she said she will not let the agency’s experts testify at the Aug. 9 hearing in Helena and that the case will remain decided in Burgess’ favor.
“MHP, a sophisticated litigant that is aware of its duty to preserve evidence, initially misinformed (Burgess) in a discovery response regarding loss of the video,” Seeley wrote. “The video was inexplicably misplaced for many months, only to eventually be found in one of the most obvious of places to look for it.”
A spokesperson for the state Department of Justice declined to comment on the ruling.
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