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Supreme Pork, Inc. v. Master Blaster, Inc. - 2009 S.D. 20, 764 N.W.2d 474

Rule:

S.D. R. Evid. 403, S.D. Codified Laws § 19-12-3, is not simply a "more than, less than" comparison; the test is whether the probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Once the evidence is found relevant, however, the balance tips emphatically in favor of admission unless the dangers set out in Rule 403 "substantially" outweigh probative value.

Facts:

After a small fire broke out in the owner's facility, the contractor was hired to add and install a second power washer. The contractor recommended a subcontractor to redesign a venting system and install a new chimney. A second fire broke out, which caused significant damage to the facility. The facility owner filed suit against the contractor for damages. Fire investigation experts were retained by a number of parties for post-fire causation analysis. The subcontractor was also found negligent. The trial court determined that the contractor was liable to the facility owner for the subcontractor's negligence. The contractor appealed.

Issue:

Was it proper for the court to hold the contractor liable for the subcontractor's negligence?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The Court affirmed the decision, holding that the contractor was liable for the negligence of the subcontractor under Minnesota law. The trial court did not err when it admitted particular testimony from expert witnesses. Further, the trial court properly admitted evidence of non-causal code violations on the same project and evidence of a 1999 fire at another facility, pursuant to S.D. R. Evid. 404(b). The trial court's rulings on relevance and admissibility were not an abuse of discretion. Even if the evidence was improperly admitted, prejudicial error was not shown. Finally, the testimony regarding "pyrolysis" did not fail to meet the Daubert standard.

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