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Jones v. Naber

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division

September 3, 2019

NANCY ALICE JONES, Individually and as the personal representative of the Estate of David Allen Jones and SCOTT ALBERT JONES, Plaintiffs,
v.
FRANCIS JOHN NABER, Defendant.

          ORDER IN LIMINE

          MARK A. ROBERTS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on the parties' motions in limine. (Docs. 21, 22.) Each party timely resisted the other's motion. (Docs. 23, 24.) Plaintiffs filed a reply. (Doc. 25.) “A district court has wide discretion in admitting and excluding evidence.” Bennett v. Hidden Valley Golf & Ski, Inc., 318 F.3d 868, 878 (8th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted). For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' motion in in limine (Doc. 21) is granted in part and denied in part. Defendant's motion in in limine (Doc. 22) is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case involves a motor vehicle accident in rural Dubuque County. Plaintiffs' decedent, David Jones, was driving a motorcycle when he collided with a manure spreader being towed by Defendant Francis Naber on his tractor. Plaintiffs' Complaint (Doc. 1) alleges Defendant was at fault in a number of particulars resulting in damages to Plaintiffs. Defendant denies the allegations that attribute fault to him and raises the affirmative defense of comparative fault. (Doc. 6.)

         II. THE MOTIONS

         A. Plaintiffs' motions

         1. The testimony of defense experts

         Plaintiffs seek to prohibit Defendant's experts from testifying beyond those opinions, facts, and data disclosed in their January 2019 report. Plaintiffs are concerned these experts may offer undisclosed opinions regarding Mr. Jones's speed or regarding whether he was improperly passing at the time of the collision. Defendant counters that his experts calculated the minimum and maximum speeds Mr. Jones could have been traveling. (Doc. 24 at 1.) This does not appear to be quite accurate. Plaintiffs point out that Defendant's experts have not calculated Mr. Jones's maximum speed. (Doc. 25.) It appears that the experts calculated only Mr. Jones minimum speed to be within a range of 44.4 to 53.0 mph. (Doc. 21-1 at 8.) The experts admit the actual speed is impossible to calculate. The fact that the experts have identified a range (which itself has a “minimum” and “maximum”) creates some possibility of confusion, but that confusion can be avoided with caution.

         Defendant argues the experts opined that Mr. Jones would have had sufficient time to recognize a slow-moving vehicle and slow down to avoid the collision. Based on the experts' report (Doc. 21-1) and Defendant's response, it does not appear Defendant intends to offer expert opinions either regarding Mr. Jones's actual speed or that he was traveling too fast for conditions. Nor does it appear Defendant intends to offer opinions from his experts that Mr. Jones was attempting to illegally pass him. Defendant concedes expert witnesses cannot testify regarding whether any person was violating the law. Defendant is correct that his experts are not prohibited from discussing their observations and measurements, including the location of no passing zones and the positions of the vehicles relative thereto. To the extent Plaintiffs' motion seeks to prevent experts from testifying beyond their disclosed opinions, the motion is granted. Both parties shall caution their respective experts to limit their testimony to opinions previously disclosed.

         2. Mr. Jones's firearm

         Plaintiffs seek to exclude evidence that shows Mr. Jones had a firearm in his possession at the time of the collision because it is irrelevant, prejudicial, and likely to confuse the jury and thus inadmissible pursuant to Federal Rules of Evidence 401, 402, and 403. Defendant does not resist this motion. Plaintiffs' motion in limine to exclude reference to or evidence of Mr. Jones's possession of a firearm is granted.

         3. Evidence of settlement negotiations, offers, or demands

         Defendant does not resist Plaintiffs' motion to exclude evidence of settlement negotiations, offers, or demands pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 408. Plaintiffs' motion regarding this topic is therefore granted.

         4. Mr. Jones's health condition and life expectancy

         Medical records show Mr. Jones had a history of heart disease, smoking, and consumption of alcohol. Plaintiffs argue that without expert testimony to tie this evidence to a decrease in Mr. Jones's life expectancy, the evidence is inadmissible because it would invite the jury to speculate. Plaintiffs' cite authorities from Washington and Illinois for the proposition that evidence of Mr. Jones's health, smoking, and alcohol consumption ...


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