Jones et al v. Naber, No. 2:2018cv01021 - Document 29 (N.D. Iowa 2019)

Court Description: ORDER granting in part and denying in part 21 Motion in Limine, subject to the limitations set forth; granting 22 Motion in Limine, subject to the limitations set forth (see text of Order). Signed by Magistrate Judge Mark A Roberts on 9/3/2019. (skm)
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Jones et al v. Naber Doc. 29 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF IOWA EASTERN DIVISION NANCY ALICE JONES, Individually and as the personal representative of the Estate of David Allen Jones and SCOTT ALBERT JONES, Plaintiffs, No. 18-cv-1021-MAR vs. ORDER IN LIMINE FRANCIS JOHN NABER, Defendant. ____________________ This matter is bef“re the C“urt “n the ”arties’ m“ti“ns in limine. (D“cs. 21, 22.) Each ”arty timely resisted the “ther’s m“ti“n. (Docs. 23, 24.) Plaintiffs filed a reply. (Doc. 25.) A district c“urt has wide discreti“n in admitting and excluding evidence. Bennett v. Hidden Valley Golf & Ski, Inc., 318 F.3d 868, 878 (8th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted). For the following reasons, Plaintiffs’ m“ti“n in in limine (D“c. 21) is granted in part and denied in part. Defendant’s m“ti“n in in limine (D“c. 22) is granted. I. BACKGROUND This case involves a motor vehicle accident in rural Dubuque County. Plaintiffs’ decedent, David Jones, was driving a motorcycle when he collided with a manure spreader being towed by Defendant Francis Naber on his tractor. Plaintiffs’ Complaint (Doc. 1) alleges Defendant was at fault in a number of particulars resulting in damages to Plaintiffs. Defendant denies the allegations that attribute fault to him and raises the affirmative defense of comparative fault. (Doc. 6.) 1 Dockets.Justia.com II. A. THE MOTIONS Plaintiffs’ motions 1. The testimony of defense experts Plaintiffs seek to prohibit Defendant’s ex”erts fr“m testifying bey“nd th“se opinions, facts, and data disclosed in their January 2019 report. Plaintiffs are concerned these experts may “ffer undiscl“sed “”ini“ns regarding Mr. J“nes’s s”eed “r regarding whether he was improperly passing at the time of the collision. Defendant counters that his experts calculated the minimum and maximum speeds Mr. Jones could have been traveling. (Doc. 24 at 1.) This does not appear to be quite accurate. Plaintiffs point out that Defendant’s ex”erts have n“t calculated Mr. J“nes’s maximum s”eed. (D“c. 25.) It appears that the experts calculated only Mr. Jones minimum speed to be within a range of 44.4 to 53.0 mph. (Doc. 21-1 at 8.) The experts admit the actual speed is impossible to calculate. The fact that the experts have identified a range (which itself has a minimum and maximum ) creates s“me ”“ssibility “f c“nfusi“n, but that confusion can be avoided with caution. Defendant argues the experts opined that Mr. Jones would have had sufficient time to recognize a slow-moving vehicle and slow down to avoid the collision. Based on the experts’ report (Doc. 21-1) and Defendant’s res”“nse, it does not appear Defendant intends t“ “ffer ex”ert “”ini“ns either regarding Mr. J“nes’s actual speed or that he was traveling too fast for conditions. Nor does it appear Defendant intends to offer opinions from his experts that Mr. Jones was attempting to illegally pass him. Defendant concedes expert witnesses cannot testify regarding whether any person was violating the law. Defendant is correct that his experts are not prohibited from discussing their observations and measurements, including the location of no passing zones and the positions of the vehicles relative thereto. To the extent Plaintiffs’ m“ti“n seeks t“ prevent experts from 2 testifying beyond their disclosed opinions, the motion is granted. Both parties shall caution their respective experts to limit their testimony to opinions previously disclosed. 2. Mr. Jones’s firearm Plaintiffs seek to exclude evidence that shows Mr. Jones had a firearm in his possession at the time of the collision because it is irrelevant, prejudicial, and likely to confuse the jury and thus inadmissible pursuant to Federal Rules of Evidence 401, 402, and 403. Defendant does not resist this motion. Plaintiffs’ m“ti“n in limine t“ exclude reference t“ “r evidence “f Mr. J“nes’s ”“ssessi“n “f a firearm is granted. 3. Evidence of settlement negotiations, offers, or demands Defendant does not resist Plaintiffs’ m“ti“n t“ exclude evidence “f settlement negotiations, offers, or demands pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 408. Plaintiffs’ motion regarding this topic is therefore granted. 4. Mr. Jones’s health condition and life expectancy Medical records show Mr. Jones had a history of heart disease, smoking, and consumption of alcohol. Plaintiffs argue that without expert testimony to tie this evidence to a decrease in Mr. Jones’s life ex”ectancy, the evidence is inadmissible because it would invite the jury to speculate. Plaintiffs’ cite authorities from Washington and Illinois for the ”r“”“siti“n that evidence “f Mr. J“nes’s health, smoking, and alcohol consumption must be su””“rted by c“m”etent medical evidence ”r““f sh“wing its impact on Mr. J“nes’s life ex”ectancy. The case is before the Court pursuant to its diversity jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Neither party has suggested that the law of another state applies. Iowa law provides: One of the elements of damage in a wrongful death action is the present worth or value of the estate which decedent would reasonably be expected to have saved and accumulated as a result of his or her efforts between the time of death and the end of his or her natural life had he or she lived. 3 [Citati“ns “mitted]. Relevant “n this issue is evidence discl“sing decedent’s age and life expectancy, characteristics and habits, health, education or opportunity for education, general ability, other occupational qualifications, industriousness, intelligence, manner of living, sobriety or intemperance, frugality or lavishness, and other personal characteristics that are of assistance in securing business or earning money. Iowa-Des Moines Nat. Bank v. Schwerman Trucking Co., 288 N.W.2d 198, 201 (Iowa 1980). Iowa Civil Jury Instruction 200.37 provides, the statistics from a standard mortality table are not conflict collusive. You may use this information together with other evidence ab“ut [the decedent’s] health, habits, “ccu”ati“n, and lifestyle when deciding the issue “f future damages. These authorities seem to contemplate that a jury will consider a range of factors in determining life expectancy without the intercession of expert witnesses. The Court declines to require medical evidence demonstrating how Mr. J“nes’s health, habits, or other characteristics may impact his life expectancy. Plaintiffs’ m“ti“n “n this issue is denied. 5. Mr. Jones’s prior relationships Defendant does not resist Plaintiffs’ motion to exclude evidence concerning Mr. J“nes’s r“mantic relati“nshi”s ”ri“r t“ his marriage t“ Plaintiff Nancy Jones, other than his marriage to Judy Jones. Plaintiffs’ m“ti“n “n this issue is granted. 6. Nancy Jones’s prior relationships Defendant d“es n“t resist Plaintiffs’ m“ti“n t“ exclude evidence c“ncerning Nancy J“nes’s r“mantic relati“nshi”s ”ri“r t“ her marriage t“ Mr. J“nes. Plaintiffs’ m“ti“n “n this issue is granted. 7. The financial condition of David and Nancy Jones Defendant does n“t resist Plaintiffs’ m“ti“n t“ exclude evidence “f the financial c“nditi“n “f David and Nancy J“nes. Plaintiffs’ m“ti“n “n this issue is granted. 8. Testimony of Defendant regarding Mr. Jones’s operation of the motorcycle before the collision 4 Defendant testified in his deposition that he did not have personal knowledge of how fast Mr. Jones was going before impact. (Doc. 21-4 at 4.) He further testified that f“ll“wing the im”act he saw the m“t“rcycle but n“t did n“t see Mr. J“nes right away. (Id. at 5.) Thus, he agrees he did not see Mr. Jones prior to the collision. Nevertheless, Defendant argues he may have perceived s“unds that may be hel”ful t“ clearly understanding the witness’s testim“ny “r t“ determining a fact in issue. Federal Rule of Evidence 701. He also appears to argue he was able to conclude what happened based on these perceptions and perhaps his observations after he felt the collision or saw Mr. Jones or his motorcycle. For example, Defendant posits he could tell he was struck from behind and concluded the motorcycle must have been traveling faster than he was. Without having heard the evidence, the Court has difficulty predicting whether this conclusion is c“ntr“versial. Nevertheless, in light “f Mr. Naber’s admissi“ns ab“ut his lack of personal knowledge and when he first saw Mr. Jones, the parties are cautioned they will need to carefully lay foundation for his testimony about what he perceived, how he perceived it, and what c“nclusi“ns he may have reached. Defendant’s c“unsel shall advise Mr. Naber “f this c“ncern in advance “f trial. Plaintiffs’ m“ti“n is denied without prejudice to any objections it may assert at trial regarding the sufficiency of the foundation “r the limits “f Defendant’s ”ers“nal kn“wledge. 9. Nancy Jones’s prior motor vehicle accident Defendant did n“t resist Plaintiffs’ m“ti“n t“ exclude evidence “f Nancy J“nes’s October 2017 motor vehicle collision as irrelevant, prejudicial, and likely to confuse the jury and, therefore, inadmissible under Federal Rules of Evidence 401, 402, and 403. Plaintiffs’ m“ti“n is granted. B. Defendant’s motions in limine 1. Liability insurance 5 Plaintiffs d“ n“t “””“se Defendant’s m“ti“n t“ exclude evidence “f liability insurance pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 5.411. Defendant’s m“ti“n “n this issue is granted. 2. Settlement Negotiations Plaintiffs d“ n“t “””“se Defendant’s m“ti“n t“ exclude evidence c“ncerning settlement neg“tiati“ns ”ursuant t“ Federal Rule “f Evidence 408. Defendant’s m“ti“n on this issue is granted. 3. Defendant’s traffic citation Plaintiffs d“ n“t “””“se Defendant’s m“ti“n t“ exclude evidence regarding the facts that Defendant was charged with making an unsafe turn and that the charge was ultimately dismissed. Defendant’s m“ti“n “n this issue is granted. 4. Official accident reports Defendant seeks to exclude the official accident reports prepared by the Iowa State Patrol. It does not appear that Plaintiffs intend to offer those reports into evidence. They anticipate the officers may need to use their reports to refresh their recollection at trial. Plaintiffs d“ n“t “””“se Defendant’s m“ti“n s“ l“ng as the re”“rts may be used t“ refresh the “fficers’ rec“llecti“n and s“ l“ng as the “fficers are ”ermitted t“ testify regarding their findings and conclusions. The C“urt d“es n“t read Defendant’s m“ti“n t“ be s“ broad as to prohibit refreshing the “fficers’ rec“llecti“n “r to prohibit the officers from testifying regarding their findings and c“nclusi“ns. Defendant’s m“ti“n “n this issue is granted. 5. Opinion evidence regarding statutory violations Plaintiffs d“ n“t “bject t“ Defendant’s m“ti“n t“ exclude “”ini“n evidence regarding statutory violations. However, Plaintiffs raise the same concerns regarding limiting investigating officers from testifying regarding their findings and conclusions. 6 Again, the C“urt d“es n“t read Defendant’s m“ti“n t“ be s“ br“ad. Defendant’s m“ti“n on this issue is granted. 6. Evidence regarding other charges Plaintiffs d“ n“t “bject t“ Defendant’s m“ti“n t“ exclude evidence regarding “ther traffic citations. This evidence does not appear to be relevant. Federal Rule of Evidence 401. Defendant’s m“ti“n “n this issue is granted. 7. Evidence regarding other accidents Plaintiffs d“ n“t “bject t“ Defendant’s m“ti“n t“ exclude evidence “f Defendant’s involvement in a different accident. This evidence does not appear to be relevant. Federal Rule “f Evidence 401. Defendant’s m“ti“n “n this issue is granted. 8. Subsequent remedial measures Defendant seeks to exclude evidence that after the accident someone installed a rearview mirror on his tractor and a slow-moving vehicle symbol on his manure spreader. Defendant argues these are subsequent remedial measures that are inadmissible pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 407 which provides: When measures are taken that would have made an earlier injury or harm less likely to occur, evidence of the subsequent measures is not admissible to prove: • negligence; • cul”able conduct; • a defect in a ”r“duct “r its design; “r • a need f“r a warning “r instructi“n. But the court may admit this evidence for another purpose, such as impeachment or--if disputed--proving ownership, control, or the feasibility of precautionary measures. Fed. R. Evid. 407 Plaintiffs assert Rule 407 permits them to introduce evidence of subsequent remedial measures for impeachment purposes or to show ownership, control or the feasibility of precautionary measures if disputed. It seems unlikely Defendant will dispute 7 ownership or control of his tractor or manure spreader. It also seems unlikely Defendant will argue that it was not feasible to install a slow-moving vehicle sign or a rearview mirror. It remains to be seen how any witness might be impeached by the post-accident im”lementati“n “f these remedial measures. Defendant’s m“ti“n is granted on this issue, subject to the following reservation. If, during trial, Plaintiffs believe there is a basis to admit evidence of remedial measures, they shall raise the issue outside the presence of the jury or at sidebar prior to making any reference to subsequent remedial measures. III. CONCLUSION F“r the reas“ns stated ab“ve, Plaintiffs’ m“ti“n in limine (D“c. 21) is granted in part and denied in part, subject t“ the limitati“ns set f“rth ab“ve. Defendant’s m“ti“n in limine is granted, subject to the limitations set forth above. Counsel for the parties shall inform all witnesses of this ruling and instruct them not to volunteer, disclose, state, or mention any of the evidence or topics on which the Court has granted the motions in limine. The attorney who calls a non-party witness is responsible for notifying such witness. IT IS SO ORDERED this 3rd day of September, 2019. 8