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Limiting the Damage

So you lose an evidentiary argument and the court allows some potentially prejudicial evidence to be presented for some narrow purpose such as bias, impeachment or to show intent, similar plan, motive or scheme.  So what should you do?  

Indiana follows “the rule of multiple admissibility” endorsed by the evidence treatises of both Whitmore and McCormick. Under this rule, evidence that is admissible for one purpose is admissible, even though it might be excluded from consideration by the jury if it was offered for another improper purpose.  The opponent of the evidence is protected, not by exclusion of the evidence, but instead by the use of a limiting instruction. Indiana Evidence Rule 105 provides:

 “If the court admits evidence that is admissible against a party or for a purpose—but not against another party or for another purpose—the court, on timely request, must restrict the evidence to its proper scope and instruct the jury accordingly.”

The party seeking to limit the evidence has the duty to request the instruction. Small v. State, 736 N.E.2d 742, 746 (Ind. 2000) (observing “a trial court has no affirmative duty to admonish a jury sua sponte as to such evidentiary matters”).  As a result you should ask the court to specifically define the area of use and address inappropriate inferences or uses which are prohibited.  Indiana Pattern Instruction No. 527 Evidence Admitted for a Limited Purposes states:

During the trial, I instructed you to consider certain evidence only for specific, limited purposes. You must consider that evidence only for those limited purposes.

Evidence relevant for some legitimate purpose,  can only be excluded if it violates the precepts of Indiana Rule of Evidence 403.  Under this rule, the danger of unfair prejudice has to substantially outweigh the evidence’s probative value in order to exclude it, thereby tipping the scales in favor of admissibility.

Keep these thoughts in mind the next time you need to limit the damage…

Motion in Limine: An Effective Pretrial Tool and Weapon (Part 1)

I plan on writing a series of posts dealing with motions in limine and the topics you may wish to cover. A Motion in Limine is a motion made for a protective order against prejudicial questions and statements, which if heard by the finder of fact, would prevent a fair and impartial trial.  The focal issue in determining whether a motion in limine should be granted is whether the prejudice in allowing admission of the proffered evidence outweighs any relevance the evidence may have.  Thus, the test involves weighing the relevance of the evidence against the possibility that the jury will consider the evidence improperly or be inflamed or confused by such evidence.  The balancing test goes beyond mere relevancy.  As stated by Professor McCormick:

But relevance is not always enough.  There may remain the question, is its value worth what it costs?  There are several counterbalancing factors which may move the court to exclude relevant evidence if they outweigh its probative value.  In order of their importance, they are these:  First, the danger that the facts offered may unduly arouse the jury’s emotions of prejudice, hostility, or sympathy.  Second, the probability that the proof and the answering evidence that it provokes may create a side issue that will unduly distract the jury from the main issues.  Evidence 2d, (1972) 438-439.

 A motion in limine is also effective in smoking out bad evidence you are unaware of as well.  Once you file such a motion in limine, the opposing party will have to disgorge their plans in response to your motion.  Here is a list of some potential topics you should consider.

         Prior Condition of Plaintiff.

You may want to precluded the defense from making any reference to a client’s prior physical or mental health unless such condition is causally connected or related to the injuries that plaintiff is claiming. To meet the threshold of relevance, and thus admissibility, the defendant must come forward with probative and competent medical testimony in support of the proposition that plaintiff’s pre-existing conditions or injuries are the cause of plaintiff’s symptoms and problems alleged in the lawsuit.  When the issue of a causal connection is not normally within the life experience and understanding of the jurors, then the testimony of an expert witness may be required depending on your jurisdiction’s law.  The mere existence of a pre-existing condition, without more, may be insufficient to make the evidence admissible as relevant to the “cause” of a plaintiff’s injuries.  When a defendant chooses to allege that a plaintiff’s symptoms and injuries are caused by a pre-existing condition (for the purpose of negating causation of plaintiff’s current injuries), then it is the defendant’s burden to satisfy the requirements of relevance and admissibility.  This analysis was cogently explained by the Court in Voykin v. Estate of DeBoer, 733 N.E.2d 1275 (Ill. 2000):

In Caley, the Defendant sought to question the plaintiff regarding the accidents occurring before and after the accident at issue.  The defendant’s theory was that these accidents were the cause of plaintiff’s injuries.  The defendant contended that, because the plaintiff always bears the burden of proving proximate cause, the defendant did not need to demonstrate a connection between the other accidents and the plaintiff’s injuries.  The appellate court rejected the defendant’s argument.  It explained that although the burden never shifts between parties, the “burden of going forward with the evidence may shift from party to party.”  Caley v. Manicke, 29 Ill. App. 2d 323, 327 (1961).  The court further reasoned that although the defendant bore the burden of demonstrating the connection between the other accidents and the plaintiff’s injuries, that did not mean that the burden of proof shifted to the defendant.  Caley, 29 Ill. App. 2d at 327, the court explained:

Proximate cause was part of plaintiff’s case.  It was as indispensable as the elements of defendant’s negligence, plaintiff’s freedom there from and damage.  Without it, plaintiff’s action would have failed.  But, when he has borne the burden of proof and established the material elements necessary to make out a case, it is the defendant’s right, but certainly not his duty, to put on his defense.  This is not shifting the burden of proof.  One cannot say to have a burden if one may pick it up or not as he pleases.  Obviously, if there is evidence negative of causation, a defendant would show it, but the law in according him his privilege of going forward in no way shifts to him the burden of proof as the law knows that phrase.

To evaluate testimony that sometime before a rear-end accident in question plaintiff had been bumped, bending a trunk handle, and that after the accident and before onset of a more serious lower back complaint, his front headlight was struck, to the status of contributing, intervening causes, suitable for submission to triers of fact, is to misread standards of relevancy required as preconditions of admissibility.  That this devolves on the defendant to the same extent as on the plaintiff initially in presenting his case, which it does, does not shift the burden of proof, or indeed have anything to do with it.  It is a question of relevancy, pure and simple.  Caley, Id. at 330.

The question remains, however, whether expert testimony is necessary to determine whether a prior injury is relevant to the current injury.  In a similar context, namely, medical malpractices cases, this court has recognized that expert testimony is normally necessary “because jurors are not skilled in the practice of medicine and would find it difficult without the help of medical evidence to determine any lack of necessary scientific skill on the part of the physician… [citations omitted].

We believe that similar considerations must govern here.  Without question, the human body is complex… In most cases the connection between the parts of the body and past and current injuries is a subject that is beyond the ken of the average layperson.  Because of this complexity, we do not believe that, in the normal circumstances, a lay juror can effectively or accurately assess the relationship between a prior injury and a current injury without expert assistance.  Consequently, we conclude that if the defendant wishes to introduce evidence that the Plaintiff has suffered a prior injury, whether to the “same part of the body” or not, the defendant must introduce expert evidence demonstrating why the prior injury is relevant to causation, damages, or some other issue of consequence.  Voykin v. Estate of DeBoer, Id. At 56, 58-59.

The foregoing rationale for requiring expert medical testimony to support the relevance of a pre or post injury medical history was recently adopted in Muncie Indiana Transit Authority v. Smith, 743 N.E.2d 1214 (Ind. App. 2001):

According to the Arizona Court of Appeals, the “obvious reason for this rule is that lay persons are no better able to testify concerning the functioning of the human body than they are able to treat its infirmities.”  [citations omitted].  The Court further explained that although “most lay person have opinions and theories of their own as to how the human body functions, our courts have decided that, in order to recover compensation, a standard of expert evidence on the subject is required where the injury is not apparent to the layman.” [citations omitted].  When the cause of the injury is not one, which is apparent to a layperson, and multiple factors may have contributed to causation, expert evidence on the subject is required.

Absent competent and relevant evidence of a causal connection between a pre-existing condition and the injuries that plaintiff is alleging in this lawsuit, such evidence of any pre-existing condition may be inadmissible.

        Claims of Sudden Emergency.

In a defendant may lists as an affirmative defense a claim of sudden emergency. In my jurisdiction, the case law is clear that for the jury to be given the instructions defining the sudden emergency defense three factors must be shown in the evidence.

A.        The actor must not have created or brought about the emergency through her own negligence.

B.        The danger or peril confronting the actor must appear to be so imminent as to leave no time for deliberations.

C.        The actor’s apprehension of the peril must be reasonable.

Barnard v. Himes, 719 N.E. 2d at 862 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999).

If there is no factual basis for applying the sudden emergency defense, then allowing a defendant to suggest such defense would only confuse and mislead the jury. See Rule of Evidence 403 of the Federal Rules.

        Red- Herring Claims of Other Causes of a Plaintiff’s Injuries.

Counsel may be precluded from making any argument or articulating any theories as to the cause of plaintiff’s injuries unless defense counsel’s arguments and theories are in fact supported by competent expert medical testimony.  In the case of  Kristoff v. Glasson, 778 N.E. 2d 465 (Ind. App. 2002), the Indiana Court of Appeals held that defense counsel may not argue pre-existing injuries, failure to mitigate and subsequent injuries unless and until their arguments and theories are supported by competent medical testimony. Id. at 473.  If you know there is no evidence to support a bogus theory you may be well served in filing such a motion in limine.  It could also force the defense to disclose evidence you may have overlooked or which was not produced in discovery.

        Employment of Counsel.

The time or circumstances under which plaintiff employed counsel, including, the fee arrangement between the plaintiff and counsel is irrelevant unless there is an attorney fee claim by contract or statute.  The purpose of this evidence is to prejudice the jury and to portray to the jury that plaintiff is “litigious.”  Any such evidence is immaterial to the issues that will be decided by the jury and potentially very prejudicial.

        Unnecessary Medical Treatment.

You should preclude or prohibit the defense counsel from alleging or arguing that plaintiff’s accident-related medical expenses are unnecessary or unreasonable.  All damages directly attributable to the wrong are recoverable by the victim.  The law also typically allows an injured plaintiff to recover reasonable costs of necessary medical treatment.  Dee v. Becker, 636 N.E. 2d 176, 178 (Ind. App. 1994).  The Indiana Supreme Court has held that the phrase “reasonable and necessary,” as a qualification for the damages recoverable by an injured party, means (1) that the amount of medical expense claimed must be reasonable, (2) that the nature and extent of the treatment claimed must be necessary in the sense that it proximately resulted from the wrongful conduct of another… . The Indiana Supreme Court observed and found that a defendant may not dispute the medical judgment of the plaintiff’s medical providers in choosing to administer the questioned studies and treatment. Sibbing v. Cave, 922 N.E.2d 594, 599-600 (Ind. 2010)

Rule 413 of Evidence as adopted in Indiana eliminated the confusion regarding the evidence that is required to satisfy the “reasonableness” requirement.  The very first sentence of IRE 413 asserts flatly that medical statements occasioned by an injury are admissible.  Rule 413 provides that the bills shall constitute prima facie evidence that the charges are reasonable and medical bills come into evidence without any proof of reasonableness or necessity.  In Indiana, personal injury plaintiffs no longer have to prove that they personally paid the medical bills or produce an expert as to the reasonableness of the charge, just necessity when it is contested. Normally , competent medical testimony is necessary to enable the jury to determine which of a plaintiff’s damages and medical expenses are related to a trauma and which are not.  Sikora v. Fromm, 887, N.E.2d 499 (Ind. App. 2002).  In Sikora, the Court of Appeals stated that expenditures for various medical treatments, drugs, and tests, like MRI’s, cannot be properly evaluated by the jury without a medical explanation that they were causally connected to the fall.

I will address additional areas to consider for a motion in limine in later posts.

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