Subsequent Remedial Measures Not Admissible in Contract Cases

Jan 11, 2011   

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has held that Federal Rule of Evidence 407, which prohibits evidence of measures taken after an injury or harm, which if taken previously would have made the injury or harm less likely, is not solely limited to negligence claims but also to contract actions. The Courts ruling may be found here.

Rule 407 has been extensively used in negligence and tort actions to exclude evidence of remedial measures taken by a defendant to prove that the defendant was previously negligent or culpable, causing a plaintiffs injuries or damages. Hypothetically, if a plaintiff sued a defendant for negligently maintaining a walkway in front of the defendants place of business, courts would not allow the plaintiff to offer at trial evidence of the defendant repairing the dangerous walkway after the plaintiffs injury occurred. Indeed, whereas the plaintiff might wish to use such evidence to prove that the walkway was dangerous, the rule exists to ensure that defendants in such situations improve potential dangers without concern as to whether such repairs might be used against them in the future.

In this case, the Plaintiff claimed that the Rule is inapplicable to breach of contract cases, but the Court disagreed, finding that the Rule covers proof of subsequent remedial measures offered to prove any “culpable” conduct, including breaches of contracts. The Court reasoned that Rule 407 should offer defendants “predictable” protection when they are devising ways to prevent future injury or harm. In this way, a defendant need not assess the likelihood that a plaintiff will sue for breach of contract rather than negligence when determining if the remedial measures could be used against the defendant. According to the District Court, Rule 407 exists so that defendants are not penalized in court for having sought, after causing injury or damages, to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

A thorough knowledge of the Federal Rules of Evidence is necessary when presenting or defending claims in federal court. Fuerst Ittlemans litigators have substantial experience in using these Rules to benefit our clients cases and make persuasive presentations in court.