“Other Products” Evidence to Support Alternate Causation Theory

Posted by David Adelstein on May 30, 2016
Appeal, Evidence, Standard of Review

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The recent case of Arizona Chemical Company, LLC v. Mohawk Industries, Inc., 41 Fla. L. Weekly D1213a (Fla. 1st DCA 2016) is a case I discussed regarding lost profit damages. Check out that article here. But, this case also raised an interesting trial and appellate issue involving “other products” evidence to support an alternate causation argument, such as when a specific product or manufactured component fails.

This case involved a manufacturer of a specific brand of carpet suing the manufacturer of resin that was used in manufacturing the failed carpet brand. The carpet manufacturer claimed that the resin failure caused an increase in warranty claims and consumer complaints.

Applicable here is the carpet manufacturer’s pre-trial motion in limine to prevent the resin manufacturer from introducing evidence about other brands manufactured by the carpet manufacturer (that did not use the resin) that contemporaneously failed and also resulted in spikes in consumer claims. In particular, the resin manufacturer intended to introduce evidence at trial of consumer claim spikes related to three other brands of carpet manufactured by the carpet manufacturer, although none of the other brands used the resin. The resin manufacturer claimed that such contemporaneous failures indicate that something other than the resin caused the failure in all of the brands. An alternate causation argument. Makes sense, right? The trial court, however, granted the carpet manufacturer’s motion in limine since the other products were dissimilar to the failed carpet brand at-issue (as none of the other brands used the resin) precluding this “other products” evidence from being introduced during trial.

Post-trial, the resin manufacturer appealed, among other issues, the trial court’s granting of the motion in limine. The First District held that the relevance of “other products” evidence is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard of appellate review. In reviewing this issue under this abuse of discretion standard of review, the First District affirmed the trial court’s preclusion of this “other products” evidence finding that such evidence was NOT relevant:

 

Generally, evidence of “possible explanations” for the plaintiff’s harm other than the defendant’s negligence is relevant and must be admitted. To establish the relevance of particular alternative-causation evidence, however, the defendant must provide a competent evidentiary link between the plaintiff’s harm and the defendant’s theory. This threshold requirement exists as a function of the relevance rule, even though the defendant does not carry a quantifiable burden of proof as to the alternative explanation.

Here, Arizona’s [resin manufactuer] basic argument is that the excluded evidence was relevant to rebut Mohawk’s [carpet manufacturer] point that the timing of Unibond’s [specific failed carpet brand at-issue] claims spike indicates that Arizona’s resin was the cause of the Unibond defects. The excluded evidence established that other products manufactured in the same Mohawk facility without Arizona’s resin experienced claims spikes at approximately the same time as Unibond. When these two points are considered outside the context of the remaining evidence, they make a compelling case for an abuse of the trial court’s discretion. Of course, context is key. When the trial court’s decision is viewed in the context in which Mohawk used the evidence of Unibond’s claims spike and the limitations of the evidence concerning other products’ claims spikes, the basis for the manner in which the trial court exercised its discretion in this case is understandable.

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Arizona argues that the evidence of other products’ claims spikes rebuts Mohawk’s causation theory because this evidence bears on the likelihood that other factors caused the Unibond claims spike. The specific factors Arizona suggests are poor quality control and lack of adherence to manufacturing protocol. However, there is no evidentiary basis in the record for supplying the connection between contemporaneous claims spikes of the four product lines and these factors. The record supports a theory that there may have been some general quality-control failings at the facility, but Arizona has not identified any evidence to substantiate its conclusion that problems with quality control explained the defects in the non-Unibond products. In fact, evidence Arizona submitted in opposition to Mohawk’s motion indicates that Mohawk traced the causes of the defects in the other products to design flaws and choices of raw materials, not quality-control or procedural failures.

Without a more direct connection between the other products’ failures and Unibond’s failures, the evidence of the other products’ failures showed causation, or rebutted Mohawk’s causation theory, only to the extent that it showed Mohawk has a propensity to produce bad carpet. Introducing evidence for this purpose is improper. In light of these considerations, we find no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s decision to exclude the other-product evidence as legally irrelevant to the issue of liability.

Arizona Chemical Company, LLC, supra (internal quotations omitted).

When relying on “other products” evidence to support an alternate causation theory, it is important to connect the dots and create the evidentiary link between the other products’ failures and the failure at-issue. In other words, you need to create the evidentiary link supporting an alternative theory of causation by relying on the “other products” evidence.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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