Motion to Exclude Will in a Fatal Auto Crash Case
IN THE CIRCUIT COURT FOR BALTIMORE CITY, MARYLAND
ESTATE OF STEVEN R. TURNER, By MICHELLE TURNER,
MICHAEL F. HAMSTEAD, - Defendant.
Case No. 03-C-07-003026Plaintiffs’ Motion in Limine to Exclude all Evidence of the Purported Will of Mr. Sechrist
Plaintiffs, Michelle Turner(hereinafter “Plaintiff”) and the Estate of Michael F. Turner (hereinafter “the Estate”), by and through their attorneys, Ronald V. Miller, Jr., Laura G. Zois, and Miller & Zois, LLC hereby files Plaintiffs’ Motion In Limine to Exclude all Evidence of the Purported Will of Mr. Turner. As will be argued herein, such evidence should be excluded because it is irrelevant. Even if this Court were to determine such evidence had some limited degree of relevance, the evidence should be excluded because its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of undue prejudice, confusion of the issues and/or misleading the jury.Introduction
On July 18, 2012, at approximately 3:55 p.m., Plaintiff’s father, Michael F. Turner, was operating his motor vehicle northbound on Falls Road, north of Woodward Lane, in the State of Maryland when the Defendant, who was traveling southbound on Falls Road lost control of his vehicle, crossed the center double yellow lines into the northbound lane of travel and struck the car operated by Mr. Turnert. Mr. Turner was pronounced dead at Sinai Hospital on July 18, 2006, at 4:28 p.m., from multiple injuries caused by the accident.
This case consists of two claims against Defendant. First, is a wrongful death claim brought by Ms. Turner pursuant to Md. Courts and Judicial Proceedings Code Ann. § 3-904. Second, there is a survival action brought by Mr. Sechrist’s Estate, through Ms. Turner as the Personal Representative. In addition to serving as the Personal Representative, Ms. Turner is the sole Beneficiary of the Estate.The Disputed Evidence
Defendant is expected to allege that the relationship between the late Mr.Turner and Ms. Turner was strained, relying upon testimony from Mr. Turner's girlfriend, Beth Huffman. Plaintiff also expects that the defense will attempt to offer evidence regarding the content of Mr. Turner's purported will. Exhibit 1. That document purports to leave all of Mr. Turner’s possessions to Ms.Huffman. The same document attempts to leave Ms. Turner the sum of one dollar from her father’s Estate. Although this document was never accepted as a legal will, Plaintiffs believe that the defense may try to introduce it, or evidence of its contents, in an attempt to argue that it is evidence of the strained relationship between Mr. Turner and Ms. Turner.Legal Standard
“The admission of evidence is committed to the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be reversed unless there is a clear abuse of discretion.” Thomas v. State, 397 Md. 557, 919 A.2d 49, 62 (2007).Argument
The disputed evidence should be excluded for two reasons. First, it is irrelevant. Such evidence does not make any fact of consequence in the car accident case more or less likely. It is therefore irrelevant under the evidentiary rules and has no place in this trial. Second, even if the evidence were relevant, its probative value would be substantially outweighed by the danger of undue prejudice. Since any probative value would be extremely slight, and the proffered evidence is extremely inflammatory and prejudicial, it should be excluded from admission at this trial.
- The disputed evidence is irrelevant.
- Even if the disputed evidence were relevant, it should be excluded because its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.
Maryland Rule 5-402 clearly states that “[e]vidence that is not relevant is not admissible.” The Rules provide a framework for determining whether any particular piece of evidence is relevant. Md. Rule 5-401 defines “relevant evidence” as " [E]vidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence."
Evidence is relevant when in conjunction with all other relevant evidence, the evidence tends to make the proposition asserted more or less probable. Snyder v. State, 361 Md. 580, 591, 762 A.2d 125, 131 (2000). For the purposes of this Motion, the question may be framed as: “Do the contents of the purported will make any fact of consequence to the determination of the action more or less likely?” The answer is, no.
In order for the Court to make this determination, it must first ascertain what facts are of consequence to the determination of the action. “What issues are material to a particular case is determined by the substantive law and the pleadings.” McLain, Maryland Rules of Evidence § 401:1 (West, 2001). “The applicable substantive law establishes the parameters of the elements of a particular claim or defense.” Id.
Plaintiff concedes that evidence regarding the nature of her relationship with her father is relevant and material to her wrongful death claim because the measure of her damages therein is the loss she sustained because of her father’s death, both pecuniary and non-economic. State v. Copes, 175 Md. App. 351, 927 A.2d 426, 441 (2007).
Having established the material issues, it must be determined what facts are of consequence to answering these questions, and whether the disputed evidence has any bearing on those facts. Thus, the Court’s task is to determine whether the contents of the purported will have any bearing on the issues to be determined by the jury in Plaintiff’s wrongful death claim. This evidence plainly has nothing to do with whether a duty of due care was owed to Mr. Sechrist, whether Ms. Turner sustained damages, whether her damages were causally related to any negligence of Defendant or whether Defendant failed to exercise due care.
In order for the contents of Mr. Turner’s purported will to make any fact of consequence more or less likely, this Court must accept that the contents of the purported will reflect Ms. Turner’s relationship with her father, and are therefore relevant to her damages. This would necessitate an inquiry into the events and decision making process surrounding the drafting of the purported will.
Unfortunately, the only way to determine why the document was drafted the way it was would be to resurrect Mr. Turner and ask him. Otherwise, there is no way for the jury to tell whether the contents of the purported will reflect animosity toward Ms. Turner, a desire to provide for Ms. Huffman or whether the provisions of the purported will were drafted for another reason entirely. The provisions of the purported will, viewed in a vacuum, tell the jury nothing about the relationship between Ms. Turner and her father. Consequently, the disputed evidence is irrelevant as a matter of law because it has no potential to make any fact of consequence in the action more or less likely. This Court should grant Plaintiffs’ Motion and order that no mention of the purported will be made at the trial of this matter.
Trial courts have great discretion in deciding what evidence may be submitted to the fact finder. McLain, Maryland Rules of Evidence § 2.403.1 (West 1994). This extends to the exclusion of relevant evidence where “its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury…” Md. Rule 5-403.
The disputed evidence has very little probative value. It has no potential to make any fact of consequence in this case more or less likely. It is Plaintiffs’ contention that the disputed evidence is not relevant at all. Even if this Court were to hold that the disputed evidence were relevant, any probative value it might have would be substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.
Whatever insight the contents of Mr. Turner’s purported will may provide to the jury pales in comparison to the prejudice that will result from allowing the jury to be influenced by Mr. Sechrist attempting to leave Ms. Turner the sum of one dollar. This type of evidence can have but one purpose - to invite the jury to speculate that Ms. Turner had a poor relationship with her father because of the provisions of the purported will. There are so many logical steps between the contents of the purported will and the conclusion the defense seeks that it is clear that admission of this evidence would pose a substantial risk of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues and/or misleading the jury.
Where, as here, the probative value of the disputed evidence is nil or minimal, at best, and the likelihood of unfair prejudice or misleading the jury is substantial, this Court should rule that the disputed evidence is inadmissible at trial.
Plaintiffs’ Motion should be granted. The disputed evidence is irrelevant under Md. Rule 5-402 because it does not make any fact of consequence to the determination of this case more or less likely. Moreover, even if the disputed evidence had some limited degree of relevance, any probative value it had would be substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues and/or misleading the jury. For these reasons, Plaintiffs’ Motion should be granted and the Court should enter an Order precluding any evidence regarding the purported will or its contents.Ronald V. Miller, Jr.
1 South St, #2450
Baltimore, MD 21202
Attorneys for Plaintiff
Point and Authorities
Maryland Pattern Jury Instruction Number 10:10
Beynon v. Montgomery Cablevision Ltd. P’ship, 351 Md. 460 (1998)
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