The opinion of the court was delivered by: DALZELL
A pallet jack is a device used at the PNI's printing facility to move heavy loads of preprints for particular editions of the newspapers. These pallet jacks may be used in two modes, as a "walker" or as a "rider." Mr. Michetti claims that the force needed to operate the pallet jack in the "rider" mode has caused him permanent injury to his left arm, specifically his ulnar nerve.
Linde Baker asserts that in the forty years it has manufactured the pallet jack at issue here (and its predecessor jacks), it has no knowledge of any previous complaints of repetitive stress related injuries associated with its product. Mr. Michetti, in response, has filed a motion in limine to preclude Linde Baker from introducing evidence at trial concerning the absence of any prior injuries associated with the pallet jacket. See Def.'s Response at 8 (plaintiff seeks to bar defendant from introducing evidence that plaintiff's "claimed injury is unique in the forty plus year period that the basic model pallet jack involved in this litigation has been in service."). We shall, for the reasons set forth below, grant the motion in part and deny it in part.
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania in Spino v. John S. Tilley Ladder Co., 448 Pa. Super. 327, 671 A.2d 726 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1996), allocatur granted, 681 A.2d 745 (Pa. 1996), recently addressed the issue of whether a defendant in its case may introduce evidence of the absence of similar accidents in the past in order to establish a lack of causal relationship between the injury and defect charged. In Spino, the Superior Court noted that, under Pennsylvania law, a plaintiff in his case-in-chief is allowed to introduce evidence of similar past accidents involving the product he claims has caused him injury, as long as plaintiff "establishes a substantial similarity of conditions between the prior incident and the incident giving rise to the plaintiff's cause of action," id. at 735. The Court went on to hold that the converse is also admissible, i.e., the defendant may introduce evidence that the plaintiff's injury is unique. See id. at 736 ("Such evidence may be admitted if relevant to a contested issue of causation, under appropriate instructions from the court and subject to the exercise of the trial court's discretion as to the probative value of the evidence, where the requirement of substantially identical circumstances is satisfied.") (citing cases).
Our Court of Appeals addressed this issue in DeMarines v. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, 580 F.2d 1193 (3d Cir. 1978). In Demarines, plaintiff claimed that during an international flight aboard a KLM-operated aircraft, he suffered, among other ailments, "an explosion-like pressure within head" and a loss of equilibrium. Id. at 1195. The Court of Appeals noted, with regard to this evidentiary issue, that:
Because this case must be retried for reasons to which we have already alluded, we express our view on the district court's exclusion of evidence of the absence of other claims arising out the . . . flight.
Given our Court of Appeal's holding on the matter, together with the weight of federal authority on this issue,
and the well-reasoned recent opinion of the Pennsylvania Superior Court, we will apply in this case the rule the Superior Court has set forth
-- "Where the threshold requirement of abundant situations of substantially identical circumstances is substantiated, admission of evidence of the absence of similar accidents to rebut evidence of causation is a matter committed to the sound discretion of the trial court in conjunction with such instructions as the trial court deems appropriate." Spino, 671 A.2d at 737; see Pandit, 82 F.3d 376 at 380 ("Evidence of the absence of prior similar claims will not be admitted unless it relates to a ...