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Law School Case Brief

Mischalski v. Ford Motor Co. - 935 F. Supp. 203 (E.D.N.Y. 1996)


An individual's legal violation precludes an action for injuries caused by a tortfeasor only when plaintiff's own criminal conduct was a "contributing proximate cause" of his or her injuries. Indeed, illegal acts will bar redress only when there is a causal nexus between plaintiff's injury and his or her own misconduct.

Failure to file income tax returns bears directly on a plaintiff's propensity for truthfulness and must be admitted for impeachment purposes if a plaintiff takes the stand.


Plaintiff Robert Mischalski, who was employed as a car repairman, brought a tort action against Ford, a manufacturer of a tire jack, which alleged that he was injured when the tire jacked buckled while he was repairing an automobile.  Ford moved for leave to amend its answer to add an affirmative defense and for an order in limine permitting it to introduce evidence at trial of plaintiff repairman "alien status" as well as the evidence that plaintiff was repairing an automobile on his own time outside of his employer's premises, and as such, he engaged in an illegal transaction or unlicensed employment. 


Should the Court grant the motion for leave to file?


Yes, in part.


The court granted the car manufacturer's motion in limine, allowing it to cross-examine the repairman on any income taxes filed, but denied the remainder of the manufacturer's motions. Finding that the repairman's illegal alien status was no bar to a recovery in federal court, the court held that such status was irrelevant and could not be used to prevent the repairman from recovering compensatory damages. Thus, it disallowed the use of such status as an affirmative defense. Further, the court rejected the manufacturer's illegal employment argument for two reasons. First, there was no evidence produced to support the manufacturer's contention that the repairman's work on the car was in any way illegal, nor that the repairman was compensated for such work as opposed to doing a favor for a friend. Secondly, working "illegally" in the manner alleged was not the cause of the repairman's injury. Moreover, evidence that the repairman was working illegally was irrelevant to the issue of damages as he declined to seek lost wages or future earnings. However, his failure to file taxes was admissible.

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