Stipulating to Liability Excludes Facts of the Accident

Suppose the facts of the accident are simply without dispute. Your driver clearly caused the collision and the injuries are really bad.
This post does address the question of disputing liability while preserving the dispute over causing the injuries. This post is about keeping out damning evidence of the accident facts. For now, my points are focused just on the legal issues of excluding all of the facts of the accident which are simply too prejudicial for a jury to see and hear.  
Federal Rules of Evidence, Rule 403 provides a way that a court may exclude relevant evidence if the probative value of the evidence is substantially outweighed by certain dangers to the litigants, including; unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues or misleading of the fact finder.
Other consideration include undue delay of trial, waste of the court’s time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence. The courts are granted such power, to exclude relevant evidence, if to facilitate justice or to keep the trial within bounds. For example
 in Granada Steel Industries v. Alabama Oxygen Co., 695 F.2d 883, 889 (5th Cir.1983), the Fifth Circuit held that evidence, such as, post accident improvements to railroad crossing lack probative value of proximate cause of the accident and thereby inject a danger that the evidence will confuse and mislead the fact finder and may properly be excluded. The Granada court determined that exclusion is justified when the value of evidence is outweighed by prejudice, such as the evidence of proximate cause of the plaintiff’s accident.
By agreeing to a stipulation of proximate cause of the accident, the plaintiff has carried the burden of proving that defendants are liable for plaintiffs’ injuries. If the court allows evidence surrounding proximate cause of Plaintiff’s accident, not only will the court be unduly delayed, but the court’s time will be wasted and the evidence will only be cumulative.
In Hall v. Brookshire Brothers, Ltd., 2001-1506 (La.App 3 Cir. 8/21/02), 2002 WL 1920357 (La.App 3 Cir.), the basis for Defendant’s Motion in Limine was that the only evidence to be elicited was both cumulative and prejudicial. The trial court denied the motion, but the appellate court found that even where evidence is relevant, and admissible, if  prejudice, undue delay, or waste of time outweigh the probative value of the relevant evidence, then the evidence may be excluded.
In Dollar v. Long Mfg., N. C., Inc., 561 F.2d 613, (C.A.Ga. 1977), the plaintiff’s son was killed while operating a backhoe and the plplaintiff brought a wrongful death action. In an evidentiary ruling, the trial court refused to permit impeachment the testimony of the defendant’s expert, by introducing a warning letter sent by the expert into evidence. In over turning the trial court, the appellate court found that exclusion of relevant evidence is justified if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of “unfair prejudice.”
As acknowledged in Dollar at 618, “Virtually all evidence is prejudicial or it isn’t material. To be properly excluded, “The prejudice must be ‘unfair” so if plaintiff is relieved of the burden to prove proximate causation of the accident, then it is unfair to defendants to allow Plaintiff to present evidence of proximate causation of the accident, which would only serve to appeal to the jury’s sympathy.
Unfair prejudice means an undue tendency to suggest a decision on an improper basis like emotion, sympathy, horror, punishment or something other than the established propositions of the case. See 3 WEINSTEIN & BERGER ¶ 403[03] 403-37 to 403-40 (citing authorities including See Ford v. Sharp, 758 F.2d 1018 (5th Cir.1985).
We’ve all seen the gruesome photos of horrendous accidents caused from a rear-end collision in a construction zone. When liability is NOT in dispute, WHY must that evidence be admitted except to inflame the anger of a juror?
Keep it OUT!
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