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When Is Evidence Considered “Prejudicial” in a Personal Injury Case?


When you bring a personal injury case, both you and the defendant have the right to introduce any evidence that might be relevant to resolving any factual disputes–within certain limitations. One of these limitations is that the judge may disallow any otherwise relevant evidence that may be considered “prejudicial.” While there is no hard-and-fast rule for deciding when a given piece of evidence is prejudicial, the judge is required to look at whether its “probative value” is outweighed by its potential unfairness to the other side in the litigation.

Judges Reject Appeal in Swimming Pool Accident Lawsuit

A recent ruling from the Iowa Court of Appeals, Lindgren v. Keshav Corporation, illustrates how close these prejudicial evidence calls can be. This personal injury case involves a plaintiff who slipped and fell from the top step of a hotel pool in Johnson County. The plaintiff later sued the hotel’s owner, alleging it was negligent in the maintenance of the pool.

More precisely, the plaintiff alleged that the top step she slipped on did not comply with Iowa regulations, which require that “pool stairs shall have a contrasting stripe at the edge of each step that is ‘slip-resistant.’” Prior to trial, the plaintiff subpoenaed a Johnson County public health official who was responsible for inspecting the hotel’s pool.

Six months prior to the plaintiff’s accident, the inspector reported the pool steps were “in compliance” with regulations. However, on his own initiative, the inspector went back and conducted a second inspection of the pool–four years later and a week before the trial.

At trial, the plaintiff objected to the inspector testifying about the more-recent inspection, arguing it would be both irrelevant and prejudicial. The trial judge overruled the objection. The judge noted the defense was entitled to “rebut” the plaintiff’s negligence theory by allowing the inspector to testify regarding both inspections.

The jury ultimately returned a verdict for the defense. On appeal, the plaintiff renewed her objection to the inspector’s testimony regarding his second, pre-trial inspection. The Court of Appeals said the trial court acted within its discretion and upheld the verdict.

As the appeals court explained, the defense’s argument was that if the pool steps were compliant during both inspections–which occurred before and after the plaintiff’s accident–then it stood to reason that it was also in compliance when the accident occurred. The inspector’s testimony regarding the latter inspection was therefore relevant. As for prejudice, the plaintiff argued that an inspection that occurred four years after the accident gave the jury an “improper basis” to conclude the pool was safe at the time of the accident. Again, the Court of Appeals disagreed, noting that the passage of time alone did not render otherwise relevant evidence “prejudicial.”

Speak with an Iowa Personal Injury Lawyer Today

A personal injury lawsuit can turn on a number of key decisions regarding the admissibility of evidence. An experienced Southeast Iowa personal injury attorney can provide you with skilled guidance in this and many other subjects. Contact the Noyes Law Office today if you need representation in a personal injury matter.


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