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Evans v. John Crane Inc.

United States District Court, D. Delaware

October 24, 2019

JOHANNA ELAINE EVANS, Individually, and As Personal Representative of the Estate of ICOM HENRY EVANS, Deceased, and on Behalf of All Wrongful Death Beneficiaries, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN CRANE, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          HONORABLE MARYELLEN NOREIKA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         At Wilmington this 24th day of October 2019, the Court having considered the parties' motions in limine (D.I. 291, 293, 294, 295), [1] IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that: (1) plaintiff Johanna Evans' (“Plaintiff”) motion in limine to exclude discussion or reference to collateral sources (D.I. 291) is granted-in-part; (2) defendant John Crane, Inc.'s (“JCI”) motion in limine to preclude references to evidence of post-exposure documents (D.I. 294) is denied without prejudice to renew; (3) JCI's motion in limine to exclude evidence of survival damages (D.I. 295) is denied; and (4) JCI's motion in limine to exclude evidence of wrongful death nonpecuniary damages (D.I. 293) is granted-in-part. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that JCI's request for a bifurcated trial (D.I. 282 at 108) is denied. Additionally, having considered JCI's Objections (D.I. 308) to Magistrate Judge Fallon's Memorandum Opinion (“the Memorandum Opinion”) regarding the testimony of Plaintiff's proffered expert, Captain Arnold Moore (“Captain Moore”) (D.I. 284), IT IS STILL FURTHER ORDERED that JCI's Objections are overruled.

         I.MOTIONS IN LIMINE

         A. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine to Exclude Discussion or Reference to Collateral Sources

         Plaintiff's motion in limine to exclude discussion of or reference to collateral sources is granted-in-part and denied-in-part. Plaintiff moves to exclude evidence of the following collateral sources: (1) Social Security and pensions; (2) life insurance proceeds; (3) claims or awards of disability benefits by any federal, state, or other governmental agency; (4) services furnished without charge; (5) benefits from hospitalization, medical or other collateral insurance coverage; and (6) other settlements in this case or any other form of compensation paid as a result of Mr. Evans' mesothelioma cause of action, as well as previous settlements. (D.I. 291 at 2). Plaintiff contends that providing a jury with information regarding these collateral benefits would allow the jury to draw an improper inference that Plaintiff was previously compensated for the injuries. (Id. at 2-3).

         In response, JCI argues that the collateral source rule does not apply to settlements with joint tortfeasors or collateral insurance coverage where the injured party did not bargain for the benefit conferred. (D.I. 291 at 5-7). JCI further contends that the collateral source rule cannot be applied to preclude evidence regarding alternative sources of exposure to asbestos, such as that involving previously-dismissed co-defendants. (Id.).

         The collateral source rule is “designed to strike a balance between two competing principles of tort law: (1) a plaintiff is entitled to compensation sufficient to make him whole, but no more; and (2) a defendant is liable for all damages that proximately result from his wrong.” Stayton v. Del. Health Corp., 117 A.3d 521, 526 (Del. 2015) (quoting Mitchell v. Haldar, 883 A.2d 32, 38 (Del. 2005)). The rule favors the plaintiff over the tortfeasor by preventing a tortfeasor from reducing its damages because of payments or compensation received by the injured plaintiff from an independent source. Id. at 527. This rule is “predicated on the theory that a tortfeasor has no interest in, and therefore no right to benefit from monies received by the injured person from sources unconnected with the defendant.” Mitchell, 883 A.2d at 37-38. “Due to the potentially prejudicial effect of such evidence, the collateral source rule generally prohibits the introduction of evidence regarding payments made to an injured plaintiff from collateral sources.” Meals v. Port Auth. Trans Hudson Corp., 622 Fed.Appx. 121, 125 (3d Cir. 2015) (citing Gladden v. P. Henderson & Co., 385 F.2d 480, 483 (3d Cir. 1967)).

         Plaintiff's requests to exclude evidence of the first four categories listed (Social Security and pensions; life insurance proceeds; claims or awards of disability benefits by any federal, state, or other governmental agency; and “services furnished without charge”) are denied as moot. JCI claims that Plaintiff produced no collateral source evidence from such categories (D.I. 291 at 5 n.1) and Plaintiff has not disputed that.[2]

         Plaintiff's motion to exclude evidence in the fifth category - i.e., benefits from hospitalization, medical, or other collateral insurance coverage - is denied without prejudice. JCI contends that the benefits received by Mr. Evans were largely paid by Medicare, and notes that Medicare benefits are exempt from the collateral source rule and require a different analysis. (D.I. 291 at 8). The Delaware Supreme Court has held that the collateral source rule does not apply to Medicare write-offs, which “are not payments made to or benefits conferred on the injured party, ” Stayton, 117 A.3d at 531 (reasoning that amounts written off were “paid by no one, ” and “[a]ny benefit . . . conferred in writing off [a percentage of the charges] was conferred on federal taxpayers, as a consequence of Medicare's purchasing power.”). Thus, evidence of Medicare write-offs received by Mr. Evans would be relevant and admissible at trial. Because Plaintiff has not specified whether the evidence of benefits from hospitalization, medical, or other collateral insurance coverage includes Medicare write offs, the Court denies Plaintiff's motion in limine on this topic without prejudice to renew the motion with respect to specific documents during the course of the trial.

         Plaintiff's motion to exclude previous settlements and other settlements in this case, or any other form of compensation paid as a result of Mr. Evans' mesothelioma cause of action is also denied. The Delaware Code provides that a claim against a joint tortfeasor may be reduced in accordance with the amount paid by another joint tortfeasor in settling a claim:

A release by the injured person of 1 joint tortfeasor, whether before or after judgment, does not discharge the other tortfeasor unless the release so provides; but reduces the claim against the other tortfeasors in the amount of the consideration paid for the release, or in any amount or proportion by which the release provides that the total claim shall be reduced, if greater than the consideration paid.

10 Del. C. § 6304(a); see also Graham v. Keene Corp., 616 A.2d 827, 828 (Del. 1992) (acknowledging the set-off of compensatory damages for asbestos-related injuries by the amounts received from settling defendants, pursuant to 10 Del. C. § 6304). In accordance with 10 Del. C. § 6304(a), evidence of previous settlements with joint tortfeasors is necessary to determine the amount by which Plaintiff's claim against JCI should be reduced.

         Relatedly, Plaintiff also requests that the Court exclude copies of pleadings which indicate the names or number of the parties sued in this case. (D.I. 291 at 3). In response, JCI contends that evidence of causation of Mr. Evans' injuries by another party's products is relevant to this case. (D.I. 291 at 7). Plaintiff's motion to exclude copies of the pleadings indicating the names or number of parties sued in the case is granted. Plaintiff's motion is narrowly tailored to exclude only copies of pleadings showing the names and number of defendants sued in this case, and it does not exclude evidence that the product of a party other than JCI may have caused Mr. Evans' mesothelioma.

         B. JCI's Motion in Limine to Preclude References to Evidence of Post-Exposure Documents

         JCI moves to exclude evidence post-dating Mr. Evans' last alleged work with a JCI product on May 17, 1965. (D.I. 294 at 1-5). It argues that evidence post-dating May 17, 1965 is irrelevant to Mr. Evans' exposure to asbestos-containing JCI products. (Id. at 3-4). JCI limits the scope of its motion to the exclusion of: (1) corporate documents or statements of JCI, including its corporate representatives; and (2) materials related to the state-of-the-art of asbestos. (D.I. 294 at 3, 30).

         Plaintiff asks the Court to defer ruling on JCI's motion in limine, alleging that the motion is premature and overbroad because it fails to identify the specific documents and information JCI seeks to exclude. (D.I. 294 at 25). Plaintiff also contends that evidence post-dating Mr. Evans' exposure may be relevant and admissible to establish causation and the dangers of JCI's products, to impeach JCI's contentions regarding the safety of its products, to show the feasibility of precautionary measures, and to show JCI's intentional disregard of the dangers of asbestos. (Id. at 26). Plaintiff suggests ...


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