![if gte IE 9]><![endif]><![if gte IE 9]><![endif]><![if gte IE 9]><![endif]>
Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
Under Fed. R. Evid. 401, "relevant evidence" means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence. However, under Fed. R. Evid. 403, although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.
On September 11, 1989, a small aircraft, en route from Kansas City, Missouri, to Springdale, Arkansas, crashed near Bentonville, Arkansas. The airplane was owned and operated by Mid-Plains Corp., an air courier business based in Kansas City, and both the pilot, a Mid-Plains employee, and the passenger, Charles Benedict, were killed. Benedict was associated with Mid-Plains as an employee who ran errands and did "odd jobs" for the company, reporting to Michael Thien, director of operations. Benedict's parents, Kenneth and Hallowgene Benedict, and his son, Chad Benedict (the Benedicts), brought a wrongful death action in a Missouri circuit court against Mid-Plains, Thien, and Richard Lund, defendant ad litem for the pilot. Mid-Plains was dismissed from the suit. Firemen's Fund Insurance Company, Mid-Plains' liability insurer, denied coverage to Thien and Lund because, at the time of the accident, Benedict was a Mid-Plains employee acting within the scope of his employment and thus fell under an exclusionary clause in the liability policy. Subsequently, Firemen's Fund brought an action against Thien and Lund in federal district court seeking declaratory judgment that the exclusionary clause applied to liability coverage of Thien and Lund for Benedict's death. The Benedicts intervened as defendants. The district court granted Firemen's Fund's motion for summary judgment based on evidence that Benedict was an employee acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. Thien and Lund appealed, and the panel reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded the case for trial. On remand, the parties agreed that Benedict was a Mid-Plains employee until at least August 31, 1989, but at trial presented conflicting evidence as to his status at the time of the accident. Conflicting evidence was also presented as to whether Benedict was traveling on the Mid-Plains airplane for business or personal purposes. After trial, the jury found that Benedict was an employee acting within the scope of his employment when the accident happened, and that Firemen's Fund therefore was not obliged to indemnify Thien and Lund for any liability arising from Benedict's death.
Did the trial court abuse its discretion in excluding the documentary and testimonial evidence resulting from the FAA's investigation of Mid-Plains' safety procedures?
The FAA reports are evidence of only marginal probativity in this case. They concern allegations of intentional falsification of airman's logs relevant to the safety of Mid-Plains' flights, and relate to this case only as regards the possible cause of the accident in which Benedict died, and whether Thien may have been at fault. The Benedicts argue that the falsification of the airman's logs is relevant to show the untrustworthiness of Mid-Plains' and Thien's record keeping as a whole, and as extrinsic evidence contradicting Seabolt's testimony that the payroll records were accurate. This attenuated relevance is not sufficient to outweigh the unfair prejudice, confusion, and waste of time likely to result from the admission of this evidence. Thien's alleged falsification of airman's logs has no direct bearing on the accuracy of payroll records and this evidence does not "contradict" Seabolt's testimony that she kept the payroll records accurately in the ordinary course of business.
"'Unfair prejudice' [under Rule 403] means an undue tendency to suggest decision on an improper basis, commonly, though not necessarily, an emotional one. Confusion of the issues warrants exclusion of relevant evidence if admission of the evidence would lead to litigation of collateral issues.” The evidence the Benedicts seek to admit presents a strong likelihood of unfair prejudice: the issue before the jury was whether the potential liability of Thien and Lund was covered by insurance, not whether they were in fact liable in any way for Benedict's death. The sole question underlying the issue was whether Benedict was an employee acting in the scope of his employment when he died. The documentary and testimonial evidence resulting from the FAA investigation of Thien is directly related to Thien's possible fault in the crash, and very likely would cause a jury to feel hostility toward Thien, contributing to a verdict based not on the evidence regarding Benedict's employment status, but on Thien's fault in the crash. Further, the FAA investigation pertains directly to a collateral issue in this case: Was Thien liable for Benedict's death? Admission of FAA evidence would lead to extended, and irrelevant, litigation of the question of Thien's liability, and thus would confuse the jury and waste their time and the court's. Thus, the FAA evidence was properly excluded under Rule 403, because the likelihood of unfair prejudice, confusion, and waste of time outweighs the probativity of that evidence.