(Please note: the names and locations of all parties have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the participants in this brain injury/car accident case and its proceedings.)
Section 1152 of the Evidence Code provides in pertinent part, (a) Evidence that a person has, in compromise … furnished … money … to another who … claims to have sustained loss or damage … is inadmissible to prove his liability for the loss or damage or any part of it. Evidence of any settlement with or payment by Lyon was inadmissible to establish his liabilityin the auto collision, so all such references would also be improper. (Tobler v. Chapman (1973) 31 Cal.App.3d 568, 575.)
In fact it is well established that under parallel circumstances it is prejudicial misconduct to tell the jury that the injured party has been compensated by another codefendant who has been dismissed from the case and that such fact demonstrates that the remaining codefendant is not liable. Tobler v. Chapman, supra, 31 Cal.App.3d at p. 575 kiting Shepherd v. Walley (1972) 28 Cal.App.3d 1079, 1083-1084; Albrecht v. Broughton (1970) 6 Cal.App.3d 173, 178; and Granville v. Parsons (1968) 259 Cal.App.2d 298, 303, 304.)
The case of Albrecht v. Broughton, supra, is directly analogous to the case at bar. There the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s denial of Plaintiff’s new trial motion, finding prejudicial error in defense counsel’s mention of settlement in arguing the issue of liability resulting in a defense verdict. Like Black, Albrecht was a case in which the evidence on liability was in conflict. Like Black, the court allowed evidence of a settlement with a co-defendant. The trial court in Albrecht then permitted in argument reference to the settlement. The Appellate Court held that this was error.
Respondent seems to claim a vested interest in having the jury made aware of the fact of a settlement and of its amount. No doubt respondent’s counsel was correct in believing that it was tactically advantageous for him to be able to bring this information to the jury in a case where the evidence on liability was in sharp conflict and the damages were so severe. There can be no question that it was a great advantage to the defense to be able to let the jury know that appellant’s injuries were not wholly uncompensated. But that advantage is not one which a party is entitled to enjoy in the absence of any issue in the determination of which the evidence will be relevant and proper for the jury to hear. (Albrecht v. Broughton, supra, 6 Cal.App.3d at p. 178.)
In Shepherd v. Walley, supra, the court focused on the following defense argument: Now, Mr. Prowant was formerly a defendant, and he settled with the plaintiff. She has been paid by him and dismissed him from the suit. I think that gives us a pretty: good idea of who the plaintiff thinks was responsible and liable. Nothing Mr. Wally did caused this accident and nothing he did should cause you to find him liable. (Shepherd v. Walley, 28 Cal.App.3d at p. 1083.) The Court of Appeal in Shepherd reversed the judgment in favor of defendant holding The presentation of evidence concerning the amount or fact of settlement to the jury…is not only confusing, but also can lead to abuse in argument as it did here. The defense counsel clearly used evidence of the fact of settlement for an improper purpose. [Citations.] Shepherd, supra at p. 1083.
This is almost verbatim the argument advanced by Mr. Jones. He argued that the true guilty party had settled, inferring not only that the settlement by Mr.; Lyon was evidence of fault, but also that Dr. Black would not be uncompensated. (See Part 11 of 12.)
For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.