WHEELING – An Illinois corporation has filed suit against three power companies, alleging the companies destroyed evidence that was vital to the corporation's ability to defend itself in a lawsuit.

Handling Systems International claims William R. Oshie, an American Electric Power Service Corporation employee, died on Dec. 5, 2006, in an accident while working at the Mitchell Power Plant in Marshall County.

Defending companies American Electric Power Company, American Electric Power Service Corporation and Ohio Power Company were responsible for investigating the accident that led to Oshie's death, according to the federal complaint filed April 28.

However, the defendants ignored, mishandled, altered, disposed of or destroyed pertinent evidence related directly to the accident, the suit states.

Handling Systems International claims a list of the spoliated evidence includes an air hose that obstructed Oshie's pathway while he was moving a portable Gantry crane, one or more pieces of lagging that were also in the pathway or adjacent to it and photographs that showed the tire tracks and footprints that were on or near the pathway.

According to the complaint, the defending companies also failed to preserve a bloody cloth that was photographed at the scene of the accident, a label that detached from the crane, the trolley mechanism that was connected to the I-beam of the crane, all photographs taken at the scene of the accident and the notebook that was in the hands of Mitchell Plant Healthy and Safety Supervisor Denise Powell.

Other evidence no longer available to Handling Systems International includes internal memoranda and e-mails directly related to the accident, all log book entries during the time the crane was in use, the legal pad crew supervisor Walter Minter was using when his crew was utilizing the crane involved in Oshie's accident, all notes taken by the companies' investigative teams during and after the accident and all notes taken by managers directly related to the accident, the suit states.

After Oshie's death, a lawsuit was filed in Marshall County Circuit Court against Handling Systems International, the suit states.

But, Handling Systems International says its ability to defend itself is hampered by the destroyed evidence.

"Upon information and belief, the above mentioned acts and/or omissions by said Defendants were done for the specific purpose of defeating HSI's ability to prevail in a future civil action and/or to avoid state and/or federal regulatory investigation and/or penalties," the suit states.

Handling Systems International is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, plus pre- and post-judgment interest, court costs, attorneys' fees and other relief to which it is entitled.

It is represented by Paul J. Harris of Harris Law Offices in Wheeling and by Thomas P. Beyer in LaGrange, Illinois.

U.S. District Court case number: 5:09-CV-43

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