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Escobar v. Airbus Helicopters SAS

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

October 7, 2016

VIOLETA ESCOBAR, also known as VIOLETA ESCOBAR CLINE, Individually and as Personal Representative for the ESTATE OF NATHAN CLINE, Deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
AIRBUS HELICOPTERS SAS, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION IN LIMINE NO. 1 (ECF NO. 211)

          HELEN GILMORE DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant Airbus Helicopters SAS (“Airbus”) has filed an “Omnibus” Motion in Limine No. 1, which contains various motions in limine.

         I. Defendant's Motion in Limine No. 1

         Section 1. Motion to Exclude Evidence of or Reference to Indemnity or Liability Insurance or Insurance Coverage

         Defendant seeks to exclude any evidence that it may have liability insurance coverage.

         Federal Rule of Evidence 411 requires the exclusion of evidence that a defendant was insured against liability when that evidence is offered for the purposes of proving the defendant's wrongful conduct. Fed.R.Evid. 411.

         Evidence of liability insurance is also excluded pursuant to Federal Rules of Evidence 401 and 403.

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 401(a), evidence is relevant if it has a tendency to make a fact more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.

         Relevant evidence is inadmissible when its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence. Fed.R.Evid. 403.

         Plaintiff has not provided any basis to demonstrate that evidence of liability insurance is relevant in this case. In re Hanford Nuclear Reservation Litig., 534 F.3d 986, 1014 (9th Cir. 2008). Evidence of liability insurance confuses the issues and misleads the jury. Evidence of liability insurance tends to alter the jurors' assessment of damages, which unfairly prejudices the parties. See Posttape Assocs. v. Eastman Kodak Co., 537 F.2d 751, 758 (3d Cir. 1976); Garnac Grain Co. v. Blackley, 932 F.2d 1563, 1570 (8th Cir. 1991).

         Defendant's Motion in Limine No. 1 as to Section #1 is GRANTED.

         Plaintiff is precluded from introducing any testimony, evidence, argument, or other reference that Defendant may be insured against liability.

         Section 2. Motion to Exclude Evidence of or Reference to the Size of Airbus Helicopters' Law Firms

         Defendant seeks to preclude Plaintiff from introducing evidence or making any references to the size of the law firms representing the Defendant as well as any remarks about their reputations, hourly fees, or any other similar information.

         Plaintiff has not demonstrated that such evidence is relevant to the issues before the jury. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 401(a), evidence is relevant if it has a tendency to make a fact more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.

         The size of the law firms representing Defendant, as well as their reputations, their hourly fees, or any similar statements are irrelevant to the case. Fed.R.Evid. 401.

         Defendant's Motion in Limine No. 1 as to Section #2 is GRANTED.

         Plaintiff is precluded from introducing any testimony, evidence, argument, or other reference to the size of the law firms representing Defendant, the reputation of the Defendant's law firms and their attorneys, their hourly fees, or any similar statements.

         Sections 3, 4, and 5 of Defendant's Motion in Limine No. 1 are relevant to the issue of punitive damages. At the Final Pretrial Conference held on September 26, 2016, the Parties agreed to bifurcate the punitive damages phase of the trial from the liability and compensatory damages phase of the trial.

Section 3. Motion to Exclude Evidence of or Reference to Airbus Helicopters' Size, Financial Condition, Solvency, or Ability to Pay a Verdict or Satisfy a Judgment
Section 4. Motion to Exclude References to “Punishing” or “Sending a Message” to Airbus Helicopters

Defendant's Motion in Limine No. 1 in Section 3 seeks to preclude Plaintiff from introducing evidence related to Defendant's present financial condition and ability to pay.

         Evidence of a defendant's financial status or ability to pay is not relevant to the issue of compensatory damages because the purpose of such damages is to make the plaintiff whole and is not dependent on the wealth of the defendant. Geddes v. United Fin. Group, 559 F.2d 557, 560 (9th Cir. 1977).

         Defendant's financial condition may be relevant to punitive damages. White v. Ford Motor Co., 500 F.3d 963, 976-77 (9th Cir. 2007).

         Section 4 of the Defendant's Motion in Limine No. 1 is concerned with language used to discuss the issue of punitive damages with the jury. Statements to the jury to “send a message” or “punish” the Defendant are inappropriate in the liability and compensatory damages phase of the trial. Wielgus v. Ryobi Technologies, Inc., 2012 WL 1853090, *2 (N.D. Ill. May 21, 2012); Osorio v. One World Techs., Inc., 659 F.3d 81, 90 (1st Cir. 2011).

         Evidence of the Defendant's ability to pay or statements to the jury about “sending a message” to Defendant are not admissible during the liability and compensatory damages phase of the trial. Vasbinder v. Ambach, 926 F.2d 1333, 1344 (2d Cir. 1991) (“punitive damages are to be tailored to the defendant's ability to pay, and normally that class of evidence is not admitted or desirable during the liability and compensatory damages phase of the case.”); Day v. Forman Automotive Group, 2015 WL 1250447, *5 (D. Nev. Mar. 18, 2015) (finding that the plaintiff was precluded from introducing the defendant's financial condition until the second phase of the trial on punitive damages); Campbell v. Keystone Aerial Surveys Inc., 138 F.3d 996, 1005-06 (5th Cir. 1998) (upholding sanctions imposed on plaintiff's counsel for failing to abide by the court's pre-trial order precluding the introduction of evidence of the defendant's financial status and ability to pay in the liability and compensatory damages phase of the trial in an aviation accident case).

         Defendant's Motion in Limine No. 1, as to Sections #3-#4, is GRANTED.

         During the liability and compensatory damages phase of the trial, Plaintiff is precluded from introducing evidence or reference to Airbus Helicopters SAS's size, financial condition, solvency, or ability to pay a verdict or satisfy a judgment. Plaintiff shall also refrain from references to “punishing” or “sending a message” to Defendant during the liability and compensatory damages phase of the trial.

         The matter will be revisited should there be a punitive damages proceeding.

         Section 5. Motion to Exclude References to Punitive Damages or Language Related Thereto

         Defendant seeks to preclude Plaintiff from referencing punitive damages at any phase of trial.

         Following the filing of Defendant's Motion, the Parties agreed to bifurcate the punitive damages phase of the trial from the liability and compensatory damages phase of the trial.

         Pursuant to Hawaii law, punitive damages are recoverable in both negligence actions and products liability actions based on strict liability if the plaintiff provide the requisite aggravating conduct on the part of the defendant. Masaki v. Gen. Motors Corp., 780 P.2d 566, 570 (Haw. 1989); Best Place v. Penn. Am. Ins. Co., 920 P.2d 334, 347 (Haw. 1996).

         Punitive damages may be recovered if a plaintiff can prove by clear and convincing evidence that a defendant acted wantonly or oppressively, or with such malice as implies a spirit of mischief or criminal indifference to civil obligations, or where there has been some willful misconduct or that entire want of care that would raise the presumption of a conscious indifference to consequences. Kaopuiki v. Kealoha, 87 P.3d 910, 927 (Haw. App. Ct. 2003) (citing Kang v. Harrington, 587 P.2d 285, 291 (Haw. 1978).

         Defendant's Motion in Limine No. 1 as to Section #5 is GRANTED as to the liability ...


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