The purpose of a lawsuit is to afford parties an opportunity to resolve disputes before a tribunal. Litigation has its benefits. For one, the force of law controls. A party cannot ignore procedural rules without facing sanctions. Two, the result will be binding. A judgement from a court of law will be enforced. Finally, three, parties can have their day in court.
Lawsuits rarely result in a trial by jury, however. Most cases are resolved short of trial — by way of mediation, or by settlement negotiated by the attorneys. Nevertheless, a trial attorney should treat every case as if it is going to trial. This mindset will help maximize the case value.
Part of preparing for trial lies in procedural strategies. One such strategy is controlling the evidence admitted during the trial. Motions, or requests to the judge, can be made before the jury is impaneled. Motions in limine are made to exclude certain evidence from being heard by the jury. There are a few motions in limine that should be considered in every case.
“Character evidence,” or evidence of a person’s past conduct unrelated to the case, is not allowed. Thus, if a plaintiff has been involved in prior lawsuits, or had been found at fault in another case, a motion should be made to protect the plaintiff. A jury may consider “character evidence” as evidence to prove conduct in the relevant case. The law prohibits that line of thinking. The present evidence should be considered alone without the information of what may or may not have happened in a separate case.
Another popular motion limits the ability of the defendant to introduce evidence not already disclosed to the plaintiff. During pre-trial litigation, discovery is completed by both sides. When a party responds to discovery, they should be held to their responses. New or contradictory evidence can be excluded with a motion in limine. For example, a defendant will assert his defense contentions during discovery. Let’s say Danny the Defendant stated in his response to an interrogatory that he was not negligent because the plaintiff ran a red light. During trial though, Danny the Defendant tries to testify that he was not negligent because the signal was defective. His testimony can be excluded because it is inconsistent with his discovery response.
Motions in limine regarding experts are common as well. Medical experts are utilized in almost every motor vehicle accident case. In order for the plaintiff to prove damages, it is helpful to have a doctor discuss the plaintiff’s medical treatment, and future medical treatment that may be necessary. It gives the jury information about the extent of money that has been spent or will have to be spent.
A plaintiff attorney should anticipate the content of the defendant’s medical expert’s opinions. An expert must disclose all of his opinions during a deposition when asked. If an expert tries to give a new or different opinion during trial, it could be devastating to the plaintiff’s case. Thus, a motion in limine should be filed so that the defendant’s expert’s opinions are limited to the opinions given during deposition.
Trial results are unpredictable. Juries have been known to surprise attorneys. It is important, then, for attorneys to do everything in their power to control the process. Motions in limine are one way of giving the plaintiff an opportunity to win.