Doug / 07-15-2013 / Legal Procedures

Do You Know What a Motion in Limine is in a Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Case?

A motion in limine (pronounced li-meh-nee or li-meh-nay) is a motion written and filed with the court or made orally in court asking the judge for a preliminary ruling on how certain evidence will be treated during the trial.  We, as the attorneys for clients in injury and death cases, ask the court to decide some evidentiary matters ahead of trial.  We ask the court to rule that pieces of evidence, documents or testimony should either be included in or excluded from the presentations made to the jury.

There are many reasons for this.  And, it all had to do with fairness.  There are certain things that come up in life that should have no bearing on how a jury decides a case.  Or, alternatively, there are certain things that must be presented to the jury – otherwise, the outcome might be unfair.

For example, in a case where someone was hurt due to the negligence of a truck driver or a trucking company, the case may not have a fair outcome unless the jury was made aware that the trucker’s driving record showed he had been convicted of reckless driving three times in the five years before this particular crash.  We would want the jury to know this, so they could use that evidence to decide whether the trucking company was negligent in putting that driver behind the wheel of one of the company trucks and sending that truck out on the roadways.  We would file a motion in limine asking the Judge to include that evidence in the trial to show the company either knew or should have known of the trucker’s bad driving habits when hiring the driver and deciding to retain that driver with the trucking company.

On the other hand, if our client was arrested for driving under the influence ten years before the collision with the semi-truck and there is no indication our client had a pattern of driving impaired and no indication our client was impaired at the time in this crash, we would file a motion in limine asking the judge to exclude that prior DUI evidence from the trucking accident case because it has nothing to do with how the parties acted at the time of the collision at issue in the present case.

Another motion in limine might have to do with insurance.  Typically, although most defendants and corporations have liability insurance or self-insured funds to cover their wrongful acts that hurt others, defense attorneys file motions in limine asking the court to exclude evidence of that insurance or self-insured fund. Again, it has to do with fairness.  The rationale is that the law does not want juries to decide a case against a defendant merely because of the fact the defendant had liability insurance to cover the damages and losses.   Likewise, the law does not want a jury thinking that the defendant has to pay out of their own pocket when they do not because there is in reality insurance to cover the loss.  Therefore, we would make a motion to exclude even the slightest suggestion a defendant would have to pay the verdict out of pocket because the insurance company would actually pay it.

We would also do a motion in limine to exclude any evidence of whether or not our client had health insurance that paid some of the medical bills.  The rationale is that we do not want juries to adjust the amount of fair compensation because they assume the person hurt had health insurance to cover the medical expenses.  This is important for several reasons.  First, if there is not health insurance, the person hurt will be short changed and not receive fair compensation for the injuries.  Second, if there is health insurance, the law requires the judge to make necessary adjustments after the trial to ensure there is not a “double recovery.”

If a person receives a dollar in medical expenses from health insurance and then also that same dollar from the at fault party, that would not be just and the injured person would be overcompensated.  Thus, the trial judge makes those adjustments after the jury verdict.  But, if the jury does it and then also the judge does it, then the injured person would be under-compensated and that would not be fair.  Therefore, we do a motion in limine on health insurance issues as well as how medical bills should be treated before trial to avoid these risks of unfairness.  (For more on medical expenses, see our other post “How medical bills are treated in personal injury cases.”)

In summary, there are many ways and reasons to use motions in limine in a personal injury or wrongful death case.  It all has to do with making sure the evidence presented is fair, the jury verdict is fair and the jury does not decide the case based on some improper reason.  The jury should decide the case on the facts and evidence presented along with the law the judge gives them judge.  And, if they do that, the result should be fair and must be respected.

Disclaimer: All verdicts and settlements listed here are gross amounts before deductions for attorney fees and costs. Past results do not guarantee similar results in the future. Most cases result in a lower recovery. It should not be assumed that your case will have as beneficial a result. Before choosing a lawyer, ask for written information about the lawyer's legal qualifications and experience.