Lidle v. Cirrus Design Corp., 2012 WL 6603388 (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, December 19, 2012). Free copy available here.

Where wrongful death action against aircraft manufacturer had focused on allegation that incorrectly rigged rudder-aileron interconnect on aircraft caused crash, the Second Circuit ruled that trial court’s exclusion from evidence of the fact that FAA had issued Airworthiness Directive mandating adjustments to rudder-aileron interconnect on all aircraft of the model at issue in this litigation did not constitute an abuse of discretion. 

Two competing policy rationales at work.

One policy rationale: Federal Rules of Evidence 407, “generally prohibits a plaintiff from introducing evidence of subsequent remedial measures ‘that would have made an earlier injury or harm less likely to occur’ to prove the defendant’s ‘negligence; culpable conduct; a defect in a product or its design; or a need for a warning or instruction.’” 

The court’s express concern was that “back-door” evidence of subsequence repair not be introduced or otherwise suggested to the jury in the form of evidence relating to the Airworthiness Directive that came later in time after the crash at issue in the litigation.

And a competing policy rationale: “Evidence of prior accidents may be admitted at trial only if the proponent ‘establish[es] their relevance by showing that they occurred under the same or substantially similar circumstances as the accident at issue.’ Schmelzer v. Hilton Hotels Corp., No. 05 Civ. 10307, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 70727, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 24, 2007). Whether a prior accident occurred under “substantially similar” conditions necessarily “depends upon the underlying theory of the case, and is defined by the particular defect at issue .” Guild v. Gen. Motors Corp., 53 F.Supp.2d 363, 367 (W.D.N.Y .1999) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).

The district court carefully reviewed the evidence presented, considered the parties’ arguments, and concluded that the Doremire Incident did not occur under substantially similar circumstances because plaintiffs had not ‘provide [d] evidence that the Doremire incident involved [a rudder-aileron interconnect] lockup where the Adel clamp crossed over and locked on a bungee clamp.’”