Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Subsequent Repairs Held Inadmissible to Prove the Defendant’s Negligence

            In Consolidated Waste Industries, Inc. v. Standard Equipment Co., 418 Md. 397, 15 A.3d 298 (2011), the Court of Appeals held that a trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting a “Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence of Subsequent Repairs,” when a plaintiff sought to admit evidence of subsequent successful repairs to a John Deere hauler to demonstrate that the initial repair company had, in fact, negligently repaired the hauler.

            In Consolidated, Consolidated Waste Industries, Inc. (“Consolidated”) filed an action against Standard Equipment Co. (“Standard”) seeking to recover the cost for Standard’s allegedly negligent repairs on a John Deere 744J Loader (“hauler”). At trial, Consolidated attempted to introduce evidence of subsequent repairs to the hauler. The Circuit Court for Prince George’s County held that evidence of these repairs was inadmissible, and, subsequently, the Court of Appeals affirmed.

            In June of 2007, Consolidated purchased the new Waster Hauler for $424,647.00 from Standard Equipment. From February of 2007 to April of 2008, Consolidated experienced problems in the steering and operation of the hauler and repeatedly employed Standard for repairs. Consolidated sent the hauler to Standard for repairs in February 2007, December 2007 and January 2008, totaling nine (9) months of repairs. Standard diagnosed the hauler with hydraulic system contamination. In December of 2008, Consolidated filed suit against Standard for breach of contract, negligence and unjust enrichment.

            In 2009, Consolidated continued experiencing steering problems with the hauler and brought the hauler to Carter Machinery (“Carter”), which flushed and cleaned the entire hydraulic system. Since Carter’s repairs, the hauler has been functioning properly.

            At trial in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, Consolidated argued negligence on the ground that the hauler required repeated and costly repairs as a result of Standard’s failure to properly perform maintenance.  In support of this claim, Consolidated sought to introduce evidence of the subsequent repairs performed by Carter, which ultimately fixed the steering and operation problems. On the day prior to trial in 2010, defense counsel for Standard filed a “Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence of Subsequent Repairs.” The next day, the trial court granted the motion to exclude evidence of subsequent repairs.

            On appeal, the Court of Appeals considered, among other issues, whether the probative value of the subsequent repairs was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. First, the Court of Appeals found that the subsequent repairs were probative of the proper maintenance, flushing the hydraulic system, which should have been performed by Standard. However, the court held that the prejudice outweighed the probative value because of the danger that a jury might find Standard negligent simply because the hauler required additional subsequent repairs, even though Standard’s last repair was April 2008 and Carter did not perform repairs until December 2009. Finding such, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s ruling.

Article contributed by Andrew Nichols

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