Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Davis v. Happyland Toy Co.

  • In a wrongful death action, both the deceased and the surviving spouse or personal representative are considered “parties” for all evidentiary purposes.
    • Whenever the defendant offers statements of either the decedent or the spouse, such statements qualify as an opposing party’s statement and are not hearsay.
  • A surviving spouse in a wrongful death action is not a party for purposes of establishing harm or injury.
    • It is not relevant and may be prejudicial that a surviving spouse suffered as a result of the death
    • Evidence that is admissible for other purposes is not rendered inadmissible because it provides evidence that a surviving spouse suffered.
Notes: It’s important for a couple of purposes to understand who the “parties” are to a case. Generally that just refers to who is suing and who is being sued, and it’s important because it establishes who is most directly affected, which is relevant for answering a couple of important questions. As simple as that sounds in theory, it gets complicated in practice. In this year’s case, for instance, Andy Allen is suing on behalf of Lee Allen, who can’t sue because s/he’s dead. What’s Andy Allen’s relationship to the case then? Is s/he a party because s/he’s the one suing? Or isn’t s/he, because s/he’s not suing in her own name, but on behalf of another’s estate? This case law answers those questions, essentially by saying “it depends.” Surviving spouses like Andy Allen are parties for evidentiary purposes: basically, anytime when you’re evaluating whether or not evidence can come in under the Midlands Rules of Evidence, Andy Allen is a party. The case law specifies that this is true in particular for the party-opponent hearsay exemption, so anything Andy Allen said that the defense wants to bring in will probably get past hearsay. Surviving spouses like Andy Allen are not parties for purposes of establishing harm. If you go back and look at the selections from the Midlands Civil Code we’re given, the third thing the plaintiff has to prove under Rule 1200 is that the plaintiff suffered injury. Injuries Andy Allen suffered don’t count towards proving that, because this case says s/he isn’t a party. Only injuries Lee Allen suffered matter.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Case Law Bonus Post: Karan v Baboons, Inc

Notes: The vast majority of, if not all of, college civil cases (and certainly this year’s) are “bifurcated” (separated) into liability and damages phases, and we only try the liability phase. In the liability phase, the goal is to establish whether or not the defendant owes the plaintiff money. “Damages” is another term for the harms the plaintiff suffered (examples of which include pain, suffering, and death). It’s also used to refer to the money paid in compensation for such harm. If there is a damages phase, then its been determined that the defendant does owe the plaintiff money and the question being decided is how much. This case law essentially beefs up the relevance and waste-of-time objections with respect to evidence that goes mostly towards the magnitude of damages. The plaintiff is allowed to introduce evidence to establish the existence of damages, but not to wax endlessly on about how great those damages were. In this case, for instance, while establishing that Lee Allen died would be relevant to establish damages, spending a great length of time establishing how painful his/her death likely was probably wouldn’t be. This case law can be brought out to support a relevance objection to such testimony.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Case Law Bonus Post: Thomas v Davis

  • The purpose of pleadings is to:
    • Frame the issues for trial
    • Permit the parties to frame their presentations accordingly
  • It is inappropriate for a party:
    • which has alleged or denied something in its complaint or answer
    • to seek to prevent its adversary from presenting otherwise admissible evidence that relates to that thing
    • by asserting that it is no longer interested in alleging or contesting that particular thing.
  • Parties may choose which evidence they wish to present and which arguments they wish to emphasize at trial
Notes: This case eliminates teams’ ability to pull a particular trick, which works like this: often in Mock Trial there are several points that are disputed in the case. Let’s take an example from State v. Dawson, the 2011-2012 college case. The defendant was charged with DUI and murder; the prosecution had to prepare its case with an eye to proving both of those charges. Without this case law, the defense could have shown up and objected to relevance to all evidence that went to the DUI and not the murder, saying that they were willing to concede the DUI now, so disputing it was no longer relevant. That’s a bad legal trick but a very handy Mock Trial one, since it could cripple entire witnesses and require on-the-fly substantial reworking of closings. This case law forbids that tactic. The complaint and the answer, included in the case materials, set the standard for what is and isn’t relevant, not what the parties concede or contest at trial.