In personal injury trials, the judge acts as the gatekeeper to determine which evidence the jury should hear. In making these evidentiary decisions, the judge must apply the appropriate rule of evidence. While the rules of evidence present a good guideline to assist a judge in making these decisions, issues often arise in a legal “gray area,” requiring the judge to apply the law to the facts of the case and come up with a reasoned decision.
Maryland Rule of Evidence 5-407 deals with subsequent remedial measures. A subsequent remedial measure is an action taken after an injury occurred, usually by a defendant, to remedy the hazard that allegedly caused the plaintiff’s injury. Generally speaking, evidence that a party took remedial action after an injury occurred cannot be used against that party. This encourages defendants who are facing allegations of negligence to fix potential hazards without fear of conceding liability in the pending lawsuit.
With that said, Rule 5-407 contains several exceptions. One exception is that evidence of a subsequent remedial measure may be introduced for purposes other than to show liability. A recent case illustrates how one plaintiff was able to introduce evidence of a subsequent remedial measure.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff tripped and fell on a water valve cover that had risen above ground level due to the surrounding asphalt becoming separated from the valve cover. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against both the city that owned the road as well as the water company.
The water company argued that it did not have a duty to maintain the area around the valve cover, and the city was the responsible party. However, about three months after the accident, the water company fixed the asphalt around the valve cover, making it flush with the ground.
At trial, the plaintiff wanted to introduce evidence that the water company fixed the asphalt around the cover to show that the water company exercised ownership over the valve cover. The water company objected and asked the court to exclude the evidence because it was a subsequent remedial measure. The lower court agreed with the water company and prevented the evidence from being considered.
On appeal, the decision of the lower court was reversed. The appellate court held that the evidence was not being presented to establish that the water company was negligent, but to show that the water company exercised ownership over the valve cover, which was an issue at the heart of the case. As a result, the case was remanded back to the lower court so that it may proceed toward trial or settlement negotiations.
Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Slip-and-Fall Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Maryland slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Property owners have a duty to maintain their land, and when a hazard causes injuries, they may be held liable. The skilled personal injury and wrongful death attorneys at the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC have extensive experience handling all types of personal injury matters, including premises liability cases. Call 410-654-3600 today to schedule your free consultation.
More Blog Posts:
Court Determines Puddle of Rainwater Did Not Constitute “Dangerous Condition” in Premises Liability Case, Maryland Accident Law Blog, April 24, 2017.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide and What Can Be Done to Prevent Exposure, Maryland Accident Law Blog, April 10, 2017.