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Legal Memorandum: Admissible Evidence on Issues of Defect

Issue: WHETHER (A) A MODIFICATION OFFER OR (B) FAILURE TO FOLLOW-UP ON CUSTOMERS WHO DID NOT RESPOND TO OFFER ARE ADMISSIBLE ON THE ISSUE OF DEFECT.

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Evidence law; Issue of defect; Evidentiary rule and exclusionary rule
Jurisdiction: California
Cited Cases: 228 Cal. Rptr. 768
Cited Statutes: Fed. R. Evid. 407; Cal. Evid. Code § 1151, § 352
Date: 07/01/2005

With respect to both evidence questions two principles of California evidence law are implicated.

First, under California law, evidence offered must be relevant enough, that is, have enough probative value to outweigh the risk of undue consumption of time, undue prejudice, confusing the issues or misleading the jury, and trial courts are granted considerable, though not unlimited, discretion to make that determination.  Cal. Evid. Code § 352; Burke v. Almaden Vineyards, Inc., 150 Cal. Rptr. 419, 422 (1st Dist. 1978).  Among the factors which should be considered are the materiality of the evidence; the strength of its relationship to the issue upon which it is offered; whether it goes to a main issue or one merely collateral; and whether it is necessary to prove the proponent’s case or merely collateral to other, available proof.  Id.  The greater the probative value, the more substantial must be the countervailing factors to justify exclusion.  Id.  This evidentiary rule has been applied to exclude evidence of a design defect similar, though not identical to that at issue here.  See Aguayo v. Crompton & Knowles Corp., 228 Cal. Rptr. 768, 772-74 (2d Dist. 1986).

Second, California has an exclusionary rule similar, though not identical to Fed. R. Evid. 407 with respect to “subsequent remedial measures.”  Cal. Evid. Code § 1151.  This statute provides that if, after the occurrence of an “event” remedial or precautionary measures are taken, evidence of such measures are not admissible “to prove negligence or […]

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