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Bair v. Velasco

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 9, 2015

Bruce Bair, Plaintiff,
v.
Jose M. Velasco, Individually & t/d/b/a JV Trucking Express, JV Trucking, LLC and Mauricio Edgardo Yanez, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

RICHARD P. CONABOY, District Judge.

We consider here two Motions in Limine filed by Plaintiff Bruce Bair and a Motion in Limine filed by Defendants Jose Velasco, Mauricio Edgardo-Yanez and JV Trucking Express, LLC. These motions (Docs. 70, 72 and 75) have been comprehensively briefed (Docs. 71, 73, 76, 77, 80, 81, 88 and 89) by the parties and are ripe for disposition. We shall consider them in the order filed.

I. APPLICABLE LAW.

These motions place at issue the propriety of admitting into evidence various aspects of Plaintiff's medical history and also some projections as to his future medical needs. It is axiomatic that to be admissible evidence must also be relevant. District Courts enjoy broad discretion in determining what evidence is relevant and in evaluating the relative probative value of evidence vis a vis the unfair prejudice that could result from the admittance of such evidence. Cowgill V. Raymark Industries, Inc., 832 F.2d 798, 806 (3d. Cir. 1987) (citing U.S. V. Long, 574 F.2d 761, 767 (3d. Cir. 1978). The Federal Rules of Evidence, specifically rules 401, 402, and 403, speak specifically to the meaning of relevance, probative value, unfair prejudice, and admissibility.

Federal Rule of Evidence 401 states: "Relevant evidence" means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.
Federal Rule of Evidence 402 states: All relevant evidence is admissible, except as otherwise provided by the Constitution of the United States by Act of Congress by these rules or by other rules prescribed by the Supreme Court pursuant to statutory authority. Evidence which is not relevant is not admissible.
Federal Rule of Evidence 403 states: Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.

The Court will determine the motions before it in keeping with the precepts announced in Rules 401, 402, and 403.

II. PLAINTIFF'S MOTION IN LIMINE TO PRECLUDE DOCUMENTS, TESTIMONY, EVIDENCE AND/OR ANY MENTIONING OF PLAINTIFF'S PRIOR MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENT AND/OR ANY PRIOR INJURIES (Doc. 70).

Before being involved in the accident (that of September 30, 2011) that gave rise to the instant lawsuit, Plaintiff was also involved in an accident on April 20, 2010 that caused injury to his lumbar spine. (Doc. 70, ¶ 3). Plaintiff treated for nine months as a result of the first accident and was restored to work activity in early 2011. (Doc. 70, ¶ 4). While in the course of his employment, Plaintiff suffered injury to his neck, head and cervical spine in the second accident on September 30, 2011 and has not worked since that date. (Doc. 70, ¶ 5; Doc. 1, ¶ 23; Doc. 80-3, Section 4.C). Plaintiff's complaint in this matter alleges damages to his "neck, upper back, head, both knees, and headaches." (Doc. 1, ¶ 20). Plaintiff has not sought to recover for any lumbar injuries pursuant to this lawsuit.

Plaintiff's motion (Doc. 70) anticipates that Defendant will attempt to adduce evidence of the lumbar injuries he suffered in the accident of April 20, 2010 in an effort to convince the jury that his current injuries and limitations stem, at least in part, from that accident. (Doc. 70, ¶¶ 1 and 2). Defendants acknowledge their intention to do this and state that it is appropriate for the jury to hear about Plaintiff's lumbar injury in the first accident because Plaintiff supposedly claimed a lumbar injury in the Workman's Compensation case that arose from the second accident, the one that gives rise to the instant case. (Doc. 81-1, at 4-6).

Defendant's assertion that Plaintiff acknowledged a lumbar injury pursuant to the accident of September 30, 2011 stems from the Compromise and Release Agreement Plaintiff executed to resolve his Workers' Compensation claim. (Doc. 81-2, Ex. D). At paragraph 4 of that agreement the "nature of the injury" was described as "strains to the cervical/lumbar spine". Significantly, however, there is no evidence that Plaintiff or his counsel prepared the Compromise and Release Agreement or even that the nature of Plaintiff's injuries was a significant focus of that document. The document, an official form of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, is one typically prepared as the culmination of negotiations to commute a Workers' Compensation case. The Court is unwilling, absent proof that Plaintiff or his counsel prepared the document, to conclude that Plaintiff was claiming a lumbar injury as a basis for the settlement he was about to receive from the Workers' Compensation carrier. The Court's unwillingness to reach this conclusion is supported by other documentation.

Both the First Report of Injury and Notice of Temporary Compensation Payable in Plaintiff's Workers' Compensation case describe the injury as being to the "head and neck" or "thoracic and cervical strain." Mention of the lumbar region is conspicuous by its absence from these documents. (Doc. 89, Exs. 1 and 2). Moreover, when Plaintiff reported for an Independent Medical Exam with the physician chosen by his employer, he complained only of neck and upper back symptomology. While Plaintiff did advise the IME physician of his prior lumbar injury, he did not assert that it was a result of his Workers' Compensation injury. The IME physician incorporated this information about Plaintiff's previous lumbar injury into his IME report, a report that specifically ruled out Plaintiff's previous accident as a cause of the symptomology for which he ultimately received Workers' Compensation benefits.

The various parts of the record to which the parties have directed the Court simply do not promote the conclusion urged by Defendant - that Plaintiff disingenuously sought to conflate his previous injuries with those for which he justly received Workers' Compensation benefits. Accordingly, the Court cannot conclude that the injuries Plaintiff suffered in the accident of April 20, 2010 should be referenced in any manner in the forthcoming trial of this matter. The injuries suffered in April of 2010 were not sufficiently similar to those suffered in 2011 to permit their ...


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