What Are Motions in Limine in Massachusetts?

Many Massachusetts personal injury cases are won in the pretrial phase or during discovery where the parties exchange what information they have regarding their clients or their interests and are able to question the involved parties and percipient witnesses and those retained as experts.  One of the tools used by a personal injury attorney during the time before trial is a motion in limine

A motion in limine is simply a request to the trial judge to exclude certain evidence from being heard and considered by the jury that is unduly prejudicial or harmful to one party.  Under Mass. G. Evid. Section 403: 

The court may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.

During discovery, there may be photographic evidence taken of a decedent in the vehicle that is graphic in nature and which the defense attorney may object to its introduction since it does nothing to prove any issue in the case but which has a high likelihood of potentially arousing or inflaming the passions of the jury.  In other matters, a party may seek to limit or to exclude the testimony of an expert witness if the testimony unfairly ridicules the other party or because the expert is not qualified to render a particular opinion.  In both cases, the value of the evidence is outweighed by its potential to have a harmful or unfair prejudicial effect on the jury. 

Subsequent remedial measures are often the subject of motions in limine too.  That is, someone could testify as to what it would have cost to fix the problem prior to the accident, but not that the defendant fixed the problem and the nominal cost to do so.  

These motions can be made at any time prior to the trial or even during the trial, but most are made just prior to the jury being selected. 

Types of Motions in Limine

Generally, there are two types of motions in limine:

  1. Prohibitive-absolute motion:  this is the most common type where a personal injury attorney makes a motion to exclude certain evidence at trial due to its questionable relevance and potential to unduly sway the jury.
  2. Prohibitive-preliminary motion:  in this type of motion, the judge will delay ruling on the evidence a party wishes to exclude to when that party states that she wishes to present the subject evidence.  

The party must make the request outside the presence of the jury.  Thus, in both types of motion, the jury never gets to hear the parties’ arguments or the subject evidence at any time. 

Consequences of a Motion in Limine

Although rare, at times an attorney or witness may intentionally or inadvertently make a statement that violates the ruling made to exclude that evidence.  Although the judge will usually admonish the individual and state to the jury that they are to disregard the statement, it can be grounds for requesting a new trial at that time or following an adverse jury verdict, or it may form the basis of an appeal by the party who made the motion to exclude that evidence. 

Even if the evidence is heard by the jury and the judge has instructed the jury to disregard it, the evidence must have been material and not just incidental to the result before a motion for a new trial may be granted.  For example, if the trial judge or appellate court rules that a different outcome was likely if the evidence had not been heard, then it may rule that the appellant is entitled to a new trial. 

A ruling made during pre-trial that excludes certain evidence may also provide the impetus for a settlement since it may substantially affect a defense or an argument that benefits the plaintiff. 

Retain the Law Office of Burns and Jain

A veteran personal injury attorney from Burns and Jain will ensure that only relevant and non-prejudicial evidence is considered by a jury. Call us at (617) 227-7423 for a free consultation about your injury claim.

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