Motions in Limine and Products Liability

NeuwirthLawCase Matters, For Lawyers

I am getting ready to go to trial on a products liability case involving a wire cup brush that removes paint from metal. A piece of metal shot off the brush and impaled my client in the eye blinding him. He had taken off his safety glasses to check his progress and restarted the device before replacing them on his head. In products cases, the focus is on the product, not on the user. If the product is dangerous and defective, the company cannot defend itself by arguing that the person was negligent. The goal in these cases is to encourage safer products.

For the litigators out there, motions in limine are an important necessary evil. These are motions or requests to the Court to keep certain evidence in or out. For example, I have a case coming up where there were many complaints about the product at issue before and after my client was injured. The complaints were made on line through the Home Depot website and responded to by the manufacturer. Many complaints were noted to be by “verified purchaser”. To me, these are admissible for a variety of reasons. To the defense, they are internet ephemera and hearsay. How the judge rules on these will be an important piece of the case. To either side, denial of this motion in limine sets up a ground for appeal as it will be a significant issue in the case.

On a higher or more generic level, motions in limine serve the above purpose, but they also signal to the other side and to the Judge that you are a serious lawyer. The judge in my case and I have never met. We have interacted briefly on a conference call a year ago. She will never get to know me by reputation etc. until the trial is over and done with. So, these motions are the first chance to really start showing the Court that this is a serious case, worth her concern, and that the lawyers are dealing with serious issues etc.

Often, once motions are filed and responded to, I consider the trial to have already begun because in order to file these, I will have read the depositions, collected exhibits and really drilled down into what is helpful or harmful in the case. The same is true for the other side. So, the case is now getting distilled down to what matters and what the jury will hear.  This is helpful for us as lawyers and helpful to the parties to work towards settlement. Often, an experienced judge will talk informally to the parties before trial and before ruling on the motions in limine and say essentially, I have not decided on these and it could go either way. I think you should explore settlement.

In every case I have tried recently, judges are fairly no nonsense about these motions. Usually there are a bunch of uncontested or insignificant ones and one or two that matter. As usual, we shall see how this case turns out.