Absence of Prior Accidents Evidence – Recent Trends in Admissibility

December 20, 2013 By Steven M. Crawford and Liam E. Felsen
Volume 3 Issue 2
DRI The Voice of the Defense Bar

I. Overview and Importance

Admission of a product's safety history evidence is one of the "most effective defenses in products liability cases."[1] Just as plaintiffs often introduce evidence of prior accidents in products liability cases,[2] defendants may offer proof of the absence of prior accidents. Defendant manufacturers can utilize this proof to show that a product is not dangerous or defective, that the product did not cause the plaintiff's injury, or that the defendant lacked notice of a defect.[3] Also known as "safety history" evidence, proof of the absence of prior accidents involving the product at issue is "powerful evidence for the defense,"[4] and can be "incredibly persuasive to the jury."[5]

II. Common Issues
    a. Relevance

Most courts today hold that evidence of the absence of prior accidents is relevant and may be admitted when appropriate.[6] Even courts claiming to exclude such evidence as a "general rule" usually allow its admission "when it is relevant and has sufficient probative value."[7] Although "very few courts appear to follow a categorical rule of exclusion,"[8] admissibility of evidence of the absence of prior accidents varies according to jurisdiction and the unique facts of each case.[9]

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