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Spino v. de - 548 Pa. 286, 696 A.2d 1169 (1997)

Rule:

Evidence of the non-existence of prior claims is admissible subject to the trial court's determination that the offering party has provided a sufficient foundation; that they would have known about the prior, substantially similar accidents involving the product at issue. Clearly, the determination of admissibility turns upon the facts and circumstances of the particular action. As such, the trial court must assess whether the offering party lays a proper foundation by establishing the accident occurred while others were using a product similar to that which caused plaintiff's injury.

Facts:

After the wife fell from a ladder that was manufactured by defendant John S. Tilley Ladder Co., plaintiffs husband and wife filed a products liability action based on strict liability. The superior court entered a judgment in favor of the ladder manufacturer after admitting “lack of prior claims” evidence against the company. The husband and wife appealed.

Issue:

Was evidence of “lack of prior claims” admissible in products liability action?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court held that evidence of the non-existence of prior claims was admissible subject to the trial court's determination that the offering party had provided a sufficient foundation that it would have known about prior, substantially similar accidents involving the product. Having determined that the ladder manufacturer maintained a reliable product problem log, the trial court had a sufficient factual basis and did not abuse its discretion in admitting the testimony. The court cautioned that while evidence of the absence of prior claims was admissible as relevant to the issue of causation, the evidence did not dictate an absolute finding that the product was not defective or unreasonably dangerous.

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