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Luke Anthony Putnam v. Henry M. Kalber and Karen

March 27, 2013

LUKE ANTHONY PUTNAM, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
HENRY M. KALBER AND KAREN D. KALBER, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Mary E. Howes, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bower, J.

Henry and Karen Kalber appeal from the judgment entered against them on Luke Putnam's negligence claim stemming from a motor vehicle collision. AFFIRMED.

Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.

Luke Anthony Putnam filed a lawsuit against Henry and Karen Kalber for injuries he received in a motor vehicle collision. The jury found Henry Kalber was seventy-percent at fault in the collision and awarded Putnam damages. The Kalbers contend the district court erred in excluding evidence that Putnam tested positive for THC*fn1 metabolites thirty minutes after the collision.

We find the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the evidence. The evidence could only show Putnam ingested marijuana sometime in the last thirty days, and did not bear on the question of whether he was impaired at the time of the collision. Therefore, the evidence is not relevant. Any relevance the evidence does have is outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Accordingly, we affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

On July 27, 2010, Henry Kalber was driving eastbound on 53rd Street in Davenport, approaching Utica Ridge Road, a four-lane road (two westbound lanes and two eastbound lanes). He was driving a car owned by his wife, Karen. Kalber intended to turn left at the intersection and head north on Utica Ridge Road.

Putnam was also approaching Utica Ridge Road on 53rd Street, headed westbound on his motorcycle. Putnam was in the right lane of westbound traffic when he maneuvered into the left lane to pass Tammy Osert's vehicle. After passing Osert, Putnam maneuvered back into the right lane of westbound traffic as he approached the intersection.

At the intersection, Kalber made a left-hand turn in front of Putnam. Although Kalber saw two cars approaching the intersection, he did not see Putnam until just before impact. Putnam struck the front-passenger side of Kalber's car.

Putnam was transported to the emergency room for treatment of his injuries. While there, he provided a urine sample. Testing revealed Putnam had 67 ng/mL of THC in his system, above the legal limit of 50 ng/mL.

On January 13, 2011, Putnam filed a petition seeking monetary damages against the Kalbers, alleging negligence. The Kalbers designated Lieutenant Neil Wellner of the Iowa State Patrol as an expert witness who would testify that the THC detected in Putnam's urine thirty minutes after the collision "was in excess of Iowa law for the standard of operating while intoxicated." In response, Putnam amended his expert witness designation to include Dr. Michael D. Corbett, who would testify "regarding THC levels and any other issues touching on driver impairment."

On March 6, 2012, Putnam filed a motion in limine, which sought to exclude-among other things-the evidence that he tested positive for THC metabolites thirty minutes after the collision. He argued that the test showed he had ingested marijuana "sometime in the last 30 days," but the test did not provide reliable evidence that he was impaired at the time of the collision.

Attached to the motion in limine was Dr. Corbett's deposition. Dr. Corbett testified that it is "impossible" to translate Putnam's drug test results into evidence that he was impaired. When asked what the value of the test results are, Dr. Corbett stated, "It means nothing in terms of whether [Putman] was impaired at this simultaneous time." He also testified that, with chronic users, marijuana metabolite can be detected in urine for upwards of a month following the last use of marijuana.

Putnam also attached Lieutenant Wellner's deposition to his motion in limine. In the deposition, Wellner testified that a positive test for marijuana use, like Putnam's, could result from smoking marijuana a week or more before the test. He also confirmed that ...


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