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Randolph v. Quiktrip Corp.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

May 18, 2017



          James P. O'Hara U.S. Magistrate Judge

         This case arises from plaintiff's fall on a wet floor at defendant's convenience store in Wichita, Kansas. Plaintiff alleges defendant was negligent by failing to maintain the store in a safe condition and to properly warn him of a hazardous condition. He seeks damages for medical expenses, lost wages, and non-economic pain and suffering. A jury trial is scheduled to begin May 23, 2017. Currently before the court are the parties' motions in limine (ECF Nos. 55, 56, & 58). As explained below, plaintiff's motion is granted in part and denied in part, and defendant's motion is denied.[1]

         I. Governing Legal Standards

         In ruling on motions in limine, the court applies the following standard:

The movant has the burden of demonstrating that the evidence is inadmissible on any relevant ground. The court may deny a motion in limine when it lacks the necessary specificity with respect to the evidence to be excluded. At trial, the court may alter its limine ruling based on developments at trial or on its sound judicial discretion. Denial of a motion in limine does not necessarily mean that all evidence contemplated by the motion will be admitted at trial. Denial only means that the court cannot decide admissibility outside the context of trial. A ruling in limine does not relieve a party from the responsibility of making objections, raising motions to strike or making formal offers of proof during the course of trial.[2]

         II. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine, As Supplemented (ECF Nos. 55, 58)

         Plaintiff moves the court to preclude the introduction of evidence about (and reference to) five matters. As explained below, plaintiff's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         1. Collateral Sources of Medical Payments and Paid Leave

         Plaintiff first moves the court to preclude testimony and argument about the collateral source of his medical payments. Defendant does not object to this request. Because the parties entered a joint stipulation, which the court approved, excluding at trial “[r]eferences to any collateral source payments for plaintiff's medical expenses or lost wages such as earned time off, ”[3] this limine request is granted.

         2. Arguments and Opinions that Plaintiff's Medical Treatment was Not Appropriate, Reasonable, or Related to the Incident

         The parties here agree that plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the medical expenses he claims arose out of medical treatment caused by the fall at defendant's store. They also agree that, although plaintiff may not recover for expenses related solely to any ailment or disability that existed before the fall, if the fall aggravated a preexisting ailment or disability then plaintiff may recover for medical expenses caused by any increased suffering and disability that resulted.[4]

         Plaintiff moves the court to exclude testimony from lay witnesses and argument from counsel that the medical treatment plaintiff received was not appropriate, reasonable, or causally related to his fall at defendant's store. Plaintiff asserts that any such opinion would require specialized medical knowledge that only a disclosed expert witness could provide.[5]Defendant has not disclosed an expert witness on this topic.

         Defendant concedes that his witnesses may not testify in this regard. Defendant asserts, however, that defense counsel should be permitted to argue plaintiff did not meet “his burden of proving causation for each of his claimed damages”[6] if such argument is supported by the testimony of plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Pat Do, given at Dr. Do's evidentiary deposition. Defendant states that, to the extent Dr. Do's testimony does not support causation, “Defendant will argue that Plaintiff's medical expenses were due to Plaintiff's preexisting condition, as opposed to any fault of Defendant's.”[7]

         Plaintiff's request is granted in part and denied in part. First, the court agrees with defendant that counsel (for both sides) may argue to the jury what Dr. Do's expert testimony suggests regarding whether plaintiff's medical treatment was appropriate, reasonable, and/or causally related to his fall at defendant's store. To the extent Dr. Do testified that plaintiff's medical treatment was or could be due to a pre-existing condition, defense counsel will be permitted to discuss that testimony in his opening and closing arguments. However, defense counsel will not be permitted to argue that claimed medical expenses were due to plaintiff's pre-existing condition where such an argument is not supported by Dr. Do's testimony. In other words, even if Dr. Do's testimony can support an argument that plaintiff's medical treatment was not the result of the fall, it is not necessarily true that such testimony supports an argument that the medical treatment was necessitated by a pre-existing condition, as opposed to some other cause, except where the testimony says as much.

         Second, plaintiff's request is granted to the extent that all agree lay witnesses may not express an opinion on whether plaintiff's medical treatment was appropriate, reasonable, or causally related to the fall. Under Fed.R.Evid. 701, witnesses not testifying as experts may only express opinions based on “the witness's perception” and “not based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge.” Defendant argues that this rule should prohibit plaintiff from testifying that his medical care was “reasonable or related to the incident.”[8]The court will not permit plaintiff to express opinions requiring specialized medical knowledge, but this ruling does not prevent plaintiff from testifying about his personal perception of facts related to his injuries and treatment. For example, nothing prevents plaintiff from testifying about how his right knee felt after the fall and what treatment he sought as a result of such feeling. Defendant, of course, is free to cross-examine plaintiff about any such testimony.

         3. Plaintiff's Unrelated Medical Conditions and Treatment

         Next, plaintiff seeks to exclude evidence of the injuries and conditions he suffered, and the treatment he received (both prior and subsequent to the fall) which are unrelated to the right knee injuries he claims in this case. Specifically, plaintiff moves the court to prohibit mention of “[a]rthritic changes to any portion of [plaintiff's] body not related to the injuries claimed to the right knee.”[9] Plaintiff argues such evidence is not relevant under Fed.R.Evid. 401 and, in any event, should be excluded under Fed.R.Evid. 403 because it could easily confuse the jury's evaluation of plaintiff's claims. Under Rule 401, “[e]vidence is relevant if: (a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action.” As to juror confusion, Rule 403 provides that although relevant, evidence may be excluded “if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of . . . unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.” As defendant notes, the parties' court-approved stipulation precludes at trial any “[q]uestioning and testimony regarding any injuries other than those for which plaintiff seeks damages (i.e., anything other than plaintiff's right knee).”[10] Thus, the parties appear to be in agreement that medical conditions and treatment unrelated to plaintiff's right knee are irrelevant and evidence of such is prohibited.

         The parties disagree, however, about what specific mention may be made about the causes of plaintiff's right knee injuries and treatment. Defendant asserts that its counsel should be permitted to “argue that Mr. Randolph's claimed injuries are due, at least in part, to arthritis and long-term degenerative changes to his knee, rather than any trauma from the incident at Defendant's store.”[11]

         As noted above, the parties submitted a jointly proposed jury instruction recognizing that, although “[p]laintiff is not entitled to recover for any physical ailment, defect, or disability that existed prior to the occurrence, . . . if the plaintiff had a preexisting physical ailment, defect or disability and you find this condition was aggravated or made active causing increased suffering or disability, then the plaintiff is entitled to recover for such increased suffering and disability.”[12] Under the Rule 401 relevancy standard, the court has little trouble finding that evidence of arthritis and long-term degenerative changes to plaintiff's right knee could shed light on facts material to how the jury answers questions of causation. Moreover, such evidence is highly probative to what medical damages (if any) are recoverable in this case, and the danger of potential unfair prejudice or confusion is low. Particularly given the high probative value of this evidence, the court does not find plaintiff has met his burden under Rule 403 at this time.

         Of course, as discussed under Heading 2 above, defense counsel may not argue that plaintiff's right-knee injuries are due to arthritis and long-term degenerative changes, rather than to the trauma resulting from the fall, unless ...

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