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Burrows v. Wal-Mart Stores East LP

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

May 28, 2019

ROBERT STEVE BURROWS, Plaintiff,
v.
WAL-MART STORES EAST, LP, Defendant.

          ORDER

          SCOTT L. PALK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motions in Limine [Doc. No. 33]. Plaintiff's motions (filed as a single document) are at issue. See Resp., Doc. No. 39.[1]

         I. Introduction and background

         On December 16, 2016, Plaintiff visited Defendant's Stillwater retail location. Plaintiff alleges that he slipped and injured himself because of an unmarked, clear liquid in the men's restroom-which Plaintiff contends had been mopped recently. Plaintiff asserts a single claim for premises liability/negligence against Defendant. See Pet., Doc. No. 1-2. To prevail on a premises liability claim, Plaintiff must prove “(1) existence of a duty on the part of the defendant to protect a plaintiff from injury; (2) defendant's breach of the duty; and (3) injury to plaintiff proximately resulting therefrom.” Scott v. Archon Grp., L.P., 2008 OK 45, ¶ 17, 191 P.3d 1207, 1211.

         “The purpose of a motion in limine is to allow the Court to decide evidentiary issues in advance of trial to avoid delay and ensure an evenhanded and expeditious trial.” Dry Clean Super Ctr., Inc. v. Kwik Indus., Inc., No. 08-cv-578-WJM-CBS, 2012 WL 503510, at *4 (D. Colo. Feb. 15, 2012). “Properly filed motions in limine permit the trial judge to eliminate from further consideration evidentiary submissions that clearly ought not to be presented to the jury because they clearly would be inadmissible for any purpose.” Id. (quotation marks omitted). Motions in limine “are designed to narrow the evidentiary issues for trial and to eliminate unnecessary trial interruptions.” Graves v. Dist. of Columbia, 850 F.Supp.2d 6, 10 (D.D.C. 2011) (quotation marks omitted). Limine motions “should target their arguments to demonstrating why certain items or categories of evidence should (or should not) be introduced at trial, and [they should] direct the trial judge to specific evidence in the record that would favor or disfavor the introduction of those particular items or categories of evidence.” Id. at 11.

         Some limine rulings, like those involving balancing under Federal Rule of Evidence 403, are necessarily preliminary because the required balancing may be reassessed as the evidence actually comes in at trial. Thus, a court's limine rulings are subject to change as the case unfolds or at the Court's discretion. See Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41-42 (1984). Or, a judge may decline to rule on an issue raised via limine motion, preferring to “await developments at trial before [so] ruling” to allow the “decision[ to] be better informed by the context, foundation, and relevance of the contested evidence within the framework of the trial as a whole.” Graves, 850 F.Supp.2d at 11 (quotation marks and citations omitted).

         The Court expects the parties' counsel to abide by these rulings. Counsel are to make relevant witnesses aware of the rulings indicated herein as well.

         II. Discussion and analysis

         A. Previous injuries to Plaintiff and related claims/litigation

         Plaintiff seeks to exclude “any reference, testimony or evidence of any unrelated claims, [l]itigation, injuries and/or incidents.” Mot. 1, Doc. No. 33. Essentially, Plaintiff seeks to limit evidence regarding any prior injuries he sustained or incidents that could have injured him to those parts of his body that he claims were injured as a result of Defendant's alleged negligence. Plaintiff indicates that he is seeking compensation for injuries to his left arm and back only, while Defendant indicates that Plaintiff is seeking compensation for injuries to his left arm, back, right leg, and right groin area. Compare Mot. 1, Doc. No. 33, with Resp. 1, Doc. No. 39. The Court need not resolve which body parts are at issue now; Plaintiff's testimony will definitively clarify what injuries he claims resulted from any negligence by Defendant.[2] The Court will allow evidence otherwise admissible regarding prior injuries or alleged injuries of Plaintiff to those body parts which Plaintiff claims at trial were injured, as well as injuries to other of Plaintiff's body parts that could have led to injuries of the body parts put at issue by Plaintiff at trial.

         To the extent Defendant seeks to introduce prior injuries to Plaintiff regarding other body parts (e.g., if Plaintiff injured his right arm previously when an injury to Plaintiff's right arm has not been put at issue by Plaintiff), counsel should ask for a bench conference to obtain a ruling on presentation of such evidence before introducing it. The Court will rule on such evidence based on trial developments to allow the Court's “decision[ to] be better informed by the context, foundation, and relevance of the contested evidence within the framework of the trial as a whole.” Graves, 850 F.Supp.2d at 11 (quotation marks and citations omitted); see Simpson v. Saks Fifth Ave., Inc., No. 07-CV-157-CVE-PJC, 2008 WL 3388739, at *5 (N.D. Okla. Aug. 8, 2008) (“Plaintiff's prior medical history will be an issue to the extent that she makes it an issue at trial. If she attempts to claim damages for a pre-existing injury that defendant believes was not aggravated by her slip and fall, defendant will be permitted to introduce medical evidence to the contrary. Likewise, if plaintiff claims that her fall exacerbated a pre-existing condition, the jury must be informed of the nature of the pre-existing condition to determine the proper measure of damages. . . . [P]laintiff's medical history with no relevance to the present accident should be excluded. However, it would be premature to exclude references to plaintiff's medical history without more information about the injuries she allegedly suffered in her slip and fall.”).

         Plaintiff also makes a related request to limit evidence regarding prior injuries to the fact of the injury (and its treatment) as opposed to whether Plaintiff filed litigation or entered a settlement regarding the injury. Defendant does not appear to oppose this portion of Plaintiff's request, responding only that it “should be able to question Plaintiff concerning his prior medical history” (which Defendant will be able to do (see supra)) “to establish [whether] the physical complaints he has alleged in this litigation are actually the result of a pre-existing condition.” Resp. 2, Doc. No. 39. Evidence that prior injuries resulted in litigation, insurance claims, or settlements is not relevant unless such information is necessary for impeachment or another proper purpose established at trial.

         B. Plaintiff's non-use of health insurance

         Plaintiff seeks to exclude inquiry of Plaintiff “about why he did or did not have health insurance and if he did, why his bills were not submitted to his insurer.” Mot. 2, Doc. No. 33. Plaintiff bases his arguments in the likelihood of issue confusion, misleading the jury, and unnecessary delay. See Fed. R. Evid. 403. Oppositely, Defendant seeks the Court's permission to inquire of Plaintiff why all but one of his medical bills either (i) were not submitted to his health insurer or (ii) were issued by a medical provider who did not accept insurance (or at least did not accept Plaintiff's health insurance). See Def.'s Tr. Br. 1-2, Doc. No. 27. Defendant accuses Plaintiff of choosing particular medical providers “to drive up the cost of a potential settlement or a verdict if a jury finds in favor of Plaintiff” and wants to inquire of Plaintiff regarding these issues to impugn Plaintiff's credibility. Resp. 2, ...


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