(Please note: the names and locations of all parties have been changed to protect the confidentiality of this wrongful death case and its proceedings.)
Relatedly, the courts have recognized that the potential for jury confusion and prejudice is particularly acute in cases like this one, where the plaintiff proposes to spend far more time talking about conduct that affected other parties than the conduct that affected the plaintiff. The risk of prejudice from other acts evidence increases tremendously when the plaintiff is permitted to make that evidence the centerpiece of her punitive damages presentation. Holdgrafer, 160 Cal. App. 4th at 934. The Second District, for example, noted that [t]he vast majority of the evidence presented in the punitive damages phase, and counsel’s arguments to the jury, related to evidence of conduct that did not harm the plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs’ counsel began his closing argument by recounting the evidence in great detail, the court noted, and it dominated the rest of his presentation. Id. For that reason, the court concluded, the improper admission of other-acts evidence was particularly prejudicial and resulted in a miscarriage of justice. See also State Farm, 538 U.S. at 420, 423 (noting that [f]rom their opening statements onward the Campbells framed this case as a chance to rebuke State Farm for its nationwide activities, but identified scant evidence of repeated misconduct of the sort that injured them ); Durham, 360 S.C. at 653 ( Further, the evidence is inflammatory, especially in light of the fact that the [other acts] evidence was the only evidence admitted during the punitive damages phase. ).
Defendant has filed various motions in limine seeking to exclude evidence of conduct that did not harm Ms. M.. Plaintiff has responded to each such motion with a boilerplate argument about the relevance of other acts evidence to the reprehensibility of the defendant’s punishable conduct. This Court should not allow plaintiff to misuse the reprehensibility guidepost in this manner. Courts throughout the country have repeatedly made clear that other-acts evidence must be admitted with great caution, if at all, in punitive damages trials, even where that evidence may be marginally relevant for reprehensibility purposes. If the Court does not police the plaintiff’s presentation of evidence to ensure a tight focus on the conduct that harmed Nancy M., any punitive award is destined for reversal.
For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.