Thursday, March 23, 2023

Judge Brann Review Rules of Evidence Regarding Admissibility of Evidence and Expert Testimony in a Trucking Accident Matter

In the case of Cleveland Brothers Equip. Co. v. Vorobey, No. 4:19-CV-01708 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 10, 2023 Brann, J.), the court addressed numerous pre-trial Motions in Limine in a contribution action arising out of a trucking accident.

In ruling on the various pre-trial Motions in Limine at issue, Judge Brann provided a detailed recitation as to the current law regarding the general the admissibility of certain evidence at trial.

With regards to one of the issues raised in this case, in which Cleveland Brothers was seeking contribution against a Co-Defendant relative to a Cleveland Brothers’ payment of a settlement in an underlying personal injury matter, the court ruled that evidence regarding a Defendant’s lack of participation in a Mediation that led to the settlement of the underlying action would be excluded as irrelevant to the negligence issues presented in this contribution case. 

The court reasoned that whether and why a party did or did not participate in an underlying legal proceeding had no bearing on whether that party owed a duty of law or breached that duty relative to the underlying motor vehicle accident. The court also noted that the reference to any litigation strategy by the parties in the underlying case was inadmissible as it would likely confuse and distract the jury in this subsequent contribution action.

Chief Judge Matthew W. Brann
M.D. Pa.

In this decision, the court also addressed issues regarding the qualifications and competency of a defense accident reconstruction expert to testify with regards to certain issues relevant to the accident. In his Opinion, Judge Brann set out the applicable law as to the admissibility of an expert witness as an expert in detail.  After reviewing that law, Judge Brann limited the Defendant's accident reconstruction expert’s testimony in certain respects.

The court also addressed whether or to the Defendant in this contribution action could attempt to introduce evidence that the settlement of the underlying personal injury case was allegedly influenced upwards by the fact that punitive damages claims were pled.

Judge Brann found that the Defendant in this contribution case had not developed any factual basis to support a claim that the punitive damages pled in the underlying case did serve to influence the settlement for which Cleveland Brothers was seeking a contribution in this matter.

The court also noted that an affirmative defense, such as the one at issue regarding the punitive damages issue, raised by a Defendant can be dismissed prior to trial for lack of proof. The court found that the Defendant’s proof in this regard was woefully insufficient and, as such, the Defendant was precluded from referencing at the trial of the contribution claims the fact that punitive damages may have been at issue in the underlying personal injury matter.

Relative to the actions of the Defendant truck driver, Judge Brann noted that, since the negligence of that driver was conceded, evidence of that driver’s conviction for traffic violations would be precluded as being more prejudicial then probative under an application of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

Judge Brann also addressed whether or not Cleveland Brothers could proceed with affidavits and/or testimony from the Plaintiff’s attorneys for the original Plaintiffs in the underlying litigation in the effort by Cleveland Brothers to establish that the damages paid in the underlying settlement were reasonable and necessary. 

The court analogized this evidence as being similar to office notes or reports by treating physicians. Judge Brann stated that, in the same way that treating physicians need not submit expert reports concerning their treatment in order to testify at trial, the attorneys for the original Plaintiffs in this same litigation would be permitted to testify as to the fairness of settlement without submitting expert reports under F.R.C.P. 26.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

I send thanks to Attorney James M. Beck of the Philadelphia office of the Reed Smith law firm in Philadelphia for summarizing this case in his monthly newsletter.  For full disclosure purposes, I note that I represented an Additional Defendant in this case.

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