Rule 402 of the Michigan Rules of Evidence

Author: LegalEase Solutions

BRIEF IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANT’S MOTION IN LIMINE

Now come Plaintiffs, by and through their attorneys and request that this Honorable Court deny Defendant’s motion in limine.  Defendants wish to preclude Plaintiffs from introducing any claims for property damage or loss of use damages with regard to their house and property, resulting from the events out of which this matter arose.  Defendants argue that Plaintiffs have already been substantially overpaid for the losses sustained, and that allowing them to present evidence of their damages would be unjust, and in violation of the Michigan Rules of Evidence and established principles of common law.

LAW AND ARGUMENT

Rule 402 of the Michigan Rules of Evidence provides that:  “All relevant evidence is admissible, except as otherwise provided by the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Michigan, these rules, or other rules adopted by the Supreme Court. Evidence which is not relevant is not admissible.”

In the instant matter the Plaintiffs’ claim rests on a determination of whether the Plaintiffs have been adequately compensated by the Defendants. Any evidence that gives proof of what the Plaintiffs have been paid as compensation is absolutely “relevant” evidence for the court to decide whether the Plaintiffs have been adequately compensated or not. The evidence being of such relevance is admissible in the courts, pursuant to Rule 402, MRE.

Relevant evidence will generally be admitted in a trial if its probative value substantially outweighs any prejudicial effect. Any prejudicial effect that the defendants might claim that the Plaintiffs’ evidence may have upon them does not outweigh the probative value of the evidence  as it lays the very foundation of the Plaintiffs’ claims that they should be compensated by the defendants or that any amount paid by defendant does not relieve the defendants of their liability or that the compensation was not adequate, Anderson v Harry’s Army Surplus Inc., 117 Mich. App. 601; 324 N.W.2d 96.

The fact that any compensation paid by defendants was an “overpayment” cannot be decided by merely attaching the settlement agreement to the motion in limine. The very fact of its adequacy being at issue, the settlement agreement is an important piece of evidence which should not be excluded by granting the defendants’ motion in limine.  Admissibility rests within the trial judge’s discretion, and his determination will not be set aside unless there has been an abuse of discretion. Aetna Life Ins Co. v Brooks, 96 Mich App 310, 314; 292 NW2d 532 (1980), lv den 409 Mich 892 (1980).

The settlement agreement is relevant evidence in order for the court to determine the amount of compensation that should be paid to the Plaintiffs. Denying Donnelly Corp.’s motion in limine in Donnelly Corp. v. Gentex Corp., 918 F. Supp. 1126 (1996), the court held prior litigation history related to the matter in issue as relevant and hence admissible in order to decide the questions before the court and also to determine the reasonable amount of royalty to be paid.

Conversely, the defendants should not be allowed to present the settlement agreement as evidence in support of the defendants’ motion in limine as the collateral source rule bars evidence of other insurance coverage when introduced for the purpose of mitigating damages. The common-law collateral-source rule provides that the recovery of damages from a tortfeasor is not reduced by the plaintiff’s receipt of money in compensation for his injuries from other sources. Nasser v Auto Club Insurance Association, 435 Mich. 33; 457 N.W.2d 637. The liability of the Defendants towards the Plaintiffs is not reduced by the fact that the Plaintiffs’ insurance company has already paid an amount in compensation for their damages.

Evidence must be relevant, as defined in the Rules of Evidence, to be admissible as part of a defendant’s case in chief; evidence is relevant if it has a legitimate tendency to establish or disprove a material fact. McMiddleton v Otis Elevator Co. 139 Mich App 418, 362 NW2d 812 (1984).

Michigan Rules of Evidence states what relevant evidence is:

“Relevant evidence” means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.” MRE, Rule 401.

Evidence is relevant if it has a tendency to make the existence of a material fact more or less probable. Citizens Nat’l Bank v Mayes 133 Mich App 808, 350 NW2d 809 (1984).  Evidence is relevant when it is sufficiently probative of a fact in issue to offset the prejudice its admission produces. People v De Rushia 109 Mich App 419, 311 NW2d 374 (1981).

Before evidence can be properly admitted matter sought to be established by evidence must be 1) in issue and 2) proferred evidence must have probative value with respect to that matter. People v McKinney 410 Mich 413, 301 NW2d 824 (1981). See also, Kent Concrete, Inc. v Hospital Bldg. & Equipment Co.  150 Mich App 91, 388 NW2d 257 (1986).

The question of whether Plaintiffs have been adequately paid or not is the fact at issue here and the settlement agreement is of probative value to the Plaintiffs’ claim. As such the evidence purported to be introduced by the Plaintiffs and excluded by the Defendants is relevant to the case within the meaning of MRE 401.

The test of relevancy is whether evidence has any tendency to make the existence of a fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence. People v Trevino 155 Mich App 10, 399 NW2d 424 (1986); People v Miller 141 Mich App 637, 367 NW2d 892 1985); Petrove v Grand T. W. R. Co. 174 Mich App 705, 436 NW2d 733 (1989); app gr, in part  434 Mich 900 (1990), vacated on other grounds 437 Mich 31, 464 NW2d 711 (1991), reh den ,437 Mich 1249 (1991), and on remand 189 Mich App 294, 471 NW2d 656 (1991), app den 439 Mich 1008, 485 NW2d 494 (1992).

The evidence purported to be excluded by the Defendants will certainly help the court in determining the probability or otherwise of adequate payments being made to and injury damages being incurred by the Plaintiffs and therefore being relevant evidence should not be excluded and the defendants motion in limine should be denied.

Relevant evidence may be excluded in a trial where its prejudicial impact outweighs its probative value. McMiddleton v Otis Elevator Co. 139 Mich App 418, 362 NW2d 812 (1984).

MRE Rule 403 provides: “Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.”

The concept of “unfair prejudice” as incorporated in the rule of evidence which provides that relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice involves more than that the evidence is “damaging” to a party’s case; prejudice arises where there exists a danger that evidence which is minimally damaging when evaluated in a logical manner may be given weight by the jury substantially out of proportion to its logically damaging effect; unfair prejudice arises where the admission of prejudicial evidence would be inequitable. Sclafani v Peter S. Cusimano, Inc. 130 Mich App 728, 344 NW2d 347 (1983); People v Harvey 167 Mich App 734, 423 NW2d 335 (1988), app den, 1988 Mich LEXIS 2027, habeas corpus dismissed, 1994 US App LEXIS 3824 (6th Cir. 1994); De Voe v C A Hull, Inc. 169 Mich App 569, 426 NW2d 709 (1988), app den 431 Mich 863 (1988).

The evidence which Defendants are requesting be excluded, contrary to Defendant’s arguments, assist the court in logically determining the amount of damages to be paid to the Plaintiffs and will not in any way “unfairly prejudice” the defendants. The Plaintiff’s evidence will rather give the court a more discrete basis upon which to make a determination.

Unfair prejudice means an undue tendency to suggest decision on an improper basis, commonly, though not necessarily, an emotional one. People v Meadows 175 Mich App 355, 437 NW2d 405 (1989), app den, 1989 Mich LEXIS 2181 (1989).

In Shoulders v. J.A. Knight Heat Controller Inc., 1997 Mich. App. LEXIS 1907, referring to  Haberkorn v Chrysler Corp, 210 Mich App 354, 362; 533 NW2d 373 (1995), the court asserted that “Assessing probative value against prejudicial effect requires a balancing of factors, including the time necessary to present the evidence and the potential for delay, whether the evidence is cumulative, how directly the evidence tends to prove the fact in support of which it is offered, how important the fact sought to be proved is, the potential for confusion, and whether the fact can be proved another way with fewer harmful collateral effects.”  Taking the points laid down in Shoulders as guidance, the evidence in the case at bar is far more probative than prejudicial and hence should be admitted.

 

Any kind of evidence presented to the court against the other party will always be prejudicial in some way or the other to the party against which it is presented.  If the courts were to exclude evidence on the grounds of prejudice no evidence would ever be admitted.  For exclusion, the evidence must be unfairly prejudicial to the other party which is not the case in the case at bar, hence the Defendants’ motion in limine should be denied.

The evidence rule regarding the exclusion of relevant evidence on grounds of prejudice does not exclude evidence because it simply prejudices the cause of the objecting party; the rule excludes only unfairly prejudicial evidence. People v Trevino, 155 Mich App 10, 399 NW2d 424 (1986).

Evidence that a plaintiff in a case arising out of a work-related injury had received settlements for several previous, similar injuries was not relevant to the question of apportionment of damages where the jury was cautioned that they were to consider only the latest injury in setting damages; therefore, exclusion of evidence of the settlements was not error. Mason v Chesapeake & O. R. Co., 110 Mich. App. 76, 312 N.W.2d 167 (1981).

Mich. R. Evid. 408 provides that evidence of: (1) furnishing or offering or promising to furnish; or (2) accepting or offering or promising to accept, a valuable consideration in compromising or attempting to compromise a claim which was disputed as to either validity or amount, is not admissible to prove liability for or invalidity of the claim or its amount. Evidence of conduct or statements made in compromise negotiations is likewise not admissible. This rule does not require the exclusion of any evidence otherwise discoverable merely because it is presented in the course of compromise negotiations. This rule also does not require exclusion when the evidence is offered for another purpose, such as proving bias or prejudice of a witness, negativing a contention of undue delay, or proving an effort to obstruct a criminal investigation or prosecution.

The chief purpose of MRE 408 is to prevent double recovery. Therefore courts often admit settlement agreements as evidence if they meet the relevancy requirement in order to prevent double recovery. For this first of all the agreement must meet the relevancy threshold requirement and secondly there shouldn’t have been any stipulation to deduct the already received amounts in compensation or damages from the final verdict. If these two conditions are satisfied the agreement becomes a relevant piece of evidence that needs to be admitted in order for the court to decide the issues presented before it.

In the host of cases deciding the question of admittance or exclusion of settlement agreements as evidence, the courts have repeatedly laid down that in cases where the parties stipulate that the amount of settlement would be deducted from any final jury verdict, or where the party did not argue that the settlement released party/all parties to the dispute from any liability, the settlement agreement was no longer relevant piece of evidence and hence should be excluded. But in the case at bar the Plaintiffs have no where stated that they stipulate the amount of compensation already received to be deducted from the final verdict or that they do not argue the settlement of the defendants from all liability.

Trial court properly excluded evidence of amount of plaintiff’s settlement with five of six defendants since both sides stipulated that amount of settlement would be deducted from any jury verdict against remaining defendant, thus precluding risk of double recovery.  Silisky v Midland-Ross Corp. (1980) 97 Mich App 470, 296 NW2d 576, CCH Prod Liab Rep P 8837, app den (1982, Mich) 323 NW2d 910.

Evidence of plaintiff’s settlement with codefendant was inadmissible as having no bearing on fact issues for jury in personal injury action in which plaintiff stipulated that amount of settlement could be deducted from any jury verdict rendered against defendant, defendant did not argue that settlement released it from any liability, and jury could properly determine portion of plaintiff’s damages caused by defendant’s negligence without reference to or knowledge of settlement.  Brewer v Payless Stations, Inc., 94 Mich App 281, 288 NW2d 352 (1979), affd  412 Mich 673, 316 NW2d 702 (1982), CCH Prod Liab Rep P 9188.

The principal reason in favor of admitting evidence of settlements is to prevent double recovery. Where the parties have stipulated that from the damages ultimately determined by the jury there would be deducted the dollar amount of the settlement and that settlement with one party was not a release of the other parties, double recovery is precluded. The admission of evidence of settlements is held to be improper where the evidence does not meet the threshold requirement of relevancy. Geraldine & Kueppers v. Chrysler Corp, 108 Mich. App. 192; 310 N.W.2d 327.

Therefore, the facts of the above stated cases being dissimilar to the facts in the case at bar, as any deduction of compensation received is not stipulated by either party, the settlement agreement is a relevant piece of evidence and hence should be allowed.

CONCLUSION

The Plaintiffs hereby request that this Honorable Court deny the Defendant’s motion in limine and permit the Plaintiffs to introduce evidence of losses sustained by their property in connection with the events giving rise to the instant matter.  Such evidence is highly relevant to the facts in issue, it provides the court with reasonable basis to address key questions, and the evidence will be helpful in removing ambiguity. Entry of an order granting the Defendant’s motion in limine would result in unfair prejudice to the Plaintiffs, as the case will be decided without their having being given a full and fair hearing.