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Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Don't Rock The Boat, Take 2: Supreme Court Of Iowa Opinion Reveals That Iowa And Federal Rules On Subsequent Remedial Measures Aren't That Different

Back in March, I posted an entry about the opinion of the Court of Appeals of Iowa in Scott v. Dutton-Lainson Co., 2009 WL 398488 (Iowa App. 2009), and how it revealed the differences between Federal Rule of Evidence 407 and Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.407. Well, in its recent opinion in Scott v. Dutton-Lainson Co., 2009 WL 3415937 (Iowa 2009), the Supreme Court of Iowa reversed the Court of Appeals of Iowa, revealing that the two rules aren't that different.

As I noted in my previous post,

In Scott, Stephen Scott, the manager of a boat dealership, was injured when the swivel jack on a boat trailer collapsed as he attempted to move the boat and trailer, with the tongue of the trailer landing on his foot. He thereafter sued the trailer manufacturer and the trailer jack manufacturer, Dutton-Lainson, alleging, inter alia, that the jack failed due to defects in its design and manufacture. The trial court, however, precluded Scott from presenting certain evidence, such as evidence that Dutton-Lainson modified the pin of the swivel jack following his injury. After the jury returned a verdict in favor of Dutton-Lainson, Scott appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the trial court improperly precluded the jack modification evidence.

The Court of Appeals of Iowa held that the issue was governed by Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.407, which states that:

When, after an event, measures are taken which, if taken previously, would have made the event less likely to occur, evidence of the subsequent measures is not admissible to prove negligence or culpable conduct in connection with the event. This rule does not require the exclusion of evidence of subsequent measures when offered in connection with a claim based on strict liability in tort or breach of warranty or for another purpose, such as proving ownership, control, or feasibility of precautionary measures, if controverted, or impeachment.

This language is different from the language in Federal Rule of Evidence 407, which states that:

When, after an injury or harm allegedly caused by an event, measures are taken that, if taken previously, would have made the injury or harm less likely to occur, evidence of the subsequent measures is not admissible to prove negligence, culpable conduct, a defect in a product, a defect in a product's design, or a need for a warning or instruction. This rule does not require the exclusion of evidence of subsequent measures when offered for another purpose, such as proving ownership, control, or feasibility of precautionary measures, if controverted, or impeachment.

As the Supreme Court of Iowa noted in Scott, one clear difference between these two rules is that "Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.407 allows introduction of evidence of subsequent remedial measures in strict liability claims while Federal Rule of Evidence 407 specifically prohibits it." The Court of Appeals of Iowa, however, had gone one step further. It also found that Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.407 allows introduction of evidence of subsequent remedial measures in cases involving products liability claims which are not strict liability claims and thus deemed the jack modification evidence admissible.

In its recent opinion in Scott, the Iowa Supremes disagreed, finding that 

[t]he standards for design defect and failure to warn claims-as recognized by the Third Products Restatement and Wright-require consideration of reasonableness and therefore incorporate negligence principles....Scott seeks to introduce evidence of a subsequent remedial measure to do exactly what the rule forbids: prove negligence or culpable conduct.  

The court thus vacated the opinion of the Court of Appeals of Iowa and reinstated the trial court's conclusion that the jack modification evidence was inadmissible.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2009/10/iowa-407scott-vdutton-lainson-co----nw2d------2009-wl-3415937iowa2009.html

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