The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently upheld a lower court’s judgment in favor of the defendant in <em><a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Gold-v.-Plesset-Properties.pdf">Gold v. Plesset Properties</a></em>. The case arises out of a slip and fall on July 8, 2011 when plaintiff Debra Gold slipped and fell exiting Plesset Properties Partnership’s (“PPP”) property. Shortly after the incident, PPP installed skid-resistant adhesive strips to prevent future slipping in the area.
Gold filed a complaint against PPP alleging negligence. On the eve of trial, PPP filed a motion to exclude any evidence at trial mentioning remedial measures to the property subsequent to the incident, such as the skid-resistant strips. Gold filed her own motion seeking to preclude PPP’s expert testimony. The court granted PPP’s motion and denied Gold’s. The subsequent jury trial found PPP not negligent and Gold appealed.
Gold asserted that the trial court erred in not permitting her to cross-examine a part owner of PPP on subsequent remedial measures. Generally, in Pennsylvania, evidence of subsequent remedial measures is not admissible to show negligence. However, it can be admissible for impeachment, to show ownership of a property, or the feasibility of precautionary measures. The court disagreed with Gold and found there was no basis for impeachment in the matter since the witness did not contradict himself on ownership or the existence of skid-proof strips.
Gold also argued that the court erred in denying her to cross-examine PPP’s expert on subsequent remedial measures. The court again disagreed with Gold and found that the defense’s expert did not base any of his testimony on the remedial measures, but rather solely the video of the incident. Gold also argued unfair surprise in that she was unaware that PPP’s expert would testify. Again, the court denied this argument and cited that Gold was notified the expert would testify a month before trial and was provided with his report in PPP’s pre-trial report 30 days before trial.
This case demonstrates the factor of subsequent remedial measures in cases. It is important for defense counsel to keep an eye on repairs and remedial measures made by clients. Plaintiff’s counsel will try to use this as evidence that a defendant was negligent, because “why wouldn’t they be negligent if they’re installing remedial measures?” The rationale behind excluding evidence of subsequent remedial measures is policy-based. In short, property owners will be less inclined to improve defects, if evidence of those improvements help a plaintiff's case.
Evidence of such measures present a compelling, but prejudicial argument to a jury, making it all the more important that defense counsel seek to preclude such evidence, and make sure their expert relies on the pre-repair conditions in his findings. Thanks to Peter Cardwell for his contribution to this post. Please email <a href="mailto:BGibbons@wcmlaw.com">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.