Florida Court Discusses Evidence in Product Liability Cases

In cases arising out of defective products, both the claims and defenses largely hinge on evidence that suggests or disproves liability. As such, in many instances, a plaintiff will attempt to introduce evidence of other harmful events caused by the product in question and any litigation that arises out of such incidents. In turn, defendants will typically fight to exclude such evidence, arguing that it is prejudicial. In a recent Florida ruling, the court addressed the admissibility of a settlement agreement in a case involving a defective product in subsequent litigation involving that product. If you suffered harm because of a faulty or dangerous device, you might be owed significant compensation, and it is smart to meet with a skillful Florida product liability lawyer to assess what evidence you may be able to use in support of your claims.

Facts of the Underlying Case

It is reported that plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the defendant, asserting that it manufactured and sold earplugs that were dangerous. Specifically, it is alleged that the earplugs failed to actually block noise as intended, resulting in tinnitus, hearing loss, and other damages. Another lawsuit, referred to as a whistleblower or qui tam action, was filed against the defendant as well. In the qui tam case it was alleged that the defendant knew that the earplugs were defective and continued to sell them regardless. The qui tam action ultimately settled.

Allegedly, prior to trial, the defendant filed numerous motions seeking to preclude the plaintiff from introducing certain evidence at trial. In part, the defendant argued that evidence of the allegations in the qui tam complaint and the qui tam settlement should be excluded as irrelevant, unduly prejudicial, and inadmissible hearsay.

Admissibility of Settlement Agreements in Subsequent Cases

Ultimately, the court agreed with the defendant with regard to the allegations in the qui tam complaint. The court noted that evidence of other lawsuits is generally deemed inadmissible hearsay. Thus, the assertions in the qui tam complaint could not be admitted for non-impeachment purposes. If the defendant opened the door to the use of the assertions at trial, though, they could be used for impeachment purposes. The court stated that it could not definitely rule on the matter until the trial was underway and, as such deferred ruling on the issue.

The court also agreed with the defendant that evidence of the qui tam settlement agreement was inadmissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence. Specifically, the court explained that Federal Rule of Evidence 408 prohibits settlement agreements and offers to settle from being introduced into evidence to establish liability, the invalidity of a claim, or the amount of damages. Similar to the complaint, however, the court found that it was possible that the settlement agreement could be introduced for other purposes, and declined to rule on the motion at that time.

Speak to a Seasoned Florida Attorney

Unsafe products cause harm to unwitting consumers every day, and companies that carelessly place defective devices into the stream of commerce should be held accountable. If you were hurt by a dangerous device, the seasoned Florida product liability attorneys of Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano, P.A. can advise you of your potential claims and aid you in pursuing any damages recoverable under the law. You can contact us through our online form or at 800-283-7442 to set up a meeting.

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