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Motions in Limine in Massachusetts Personal Injury Cases

At the outset of any personal injury matter, it is essential to consider the potential evidence and its likelihood of admissibility. This entails considering any known evidence which has been discovered, any issues which may arise with enforceability, and the likely ruling in regards to those issues. This process should begin at the point in which the personal injury lawyer is assessing the case and considering whether to take it to begin with.

The effective Massachusetts personal injury lawyer will closely review every scrap evidence and possible testimony that may reach the ears and eyes of the jury. By the time trial is looming, the personal injury lawyer ahould have a sense of the evidence he or she intends to submit for admission to the jury, along with the evidence that the opposing lawyer will likely attempt to bring to the jury's attention. The attorney should also sense the arguments which should be made in regards to any objection to admissibility. Objections may be made on a variety of grounds, and there may be argument whether to sustain or overrule each objection.

It is true that each lawyer may wait until the other lawyer tries to admit questionable evidence before asserting an objection. However, the lawyer intending to present the evidence may include a reference to in his or her opening statement. Even if an objection is timately made and sustained, and even if the evidence is properly excluded, the jury may already have well formed opinions as to how the case will ultimately resolve and what the verdict will ultimately be. When that evidence is later excluded, changing the potentially settled mind of a juror becomes more difficult.

Even if there is no reference to the evidence during the opening statement, if the lawyer objecting to the admissibility of the evidence objects when the question is asked by the other lawyer, some indication of the issue is now brought to the attention of the jury. As a result, the jury might unavoidably draw inferences as to the ultimate issue in the case.

The best way to avoid these issues is with a motion in limine. A motion in limine brings preliminary issues before the judge for decisions of admissibility prior to the commencement of trial. Essentially, either lawyer--knowing the other lawyer might raise objectionable evidence or object to his or her own intended evidence--may file a motion in limine for the judge to resolve the matter and make a decision on the evidences admissibility prior to trial.

While there is no particular procedure on point in either Massachusetts or federal court, either lawyer can get these issues before the judge by following simple motion practice. Sometimes lawyers will seek to exclude an entire subject, while other times, the solution sought will be narrower in scope. In personal injury cases, there may be a number of instances in which motions in limine would be appropriate, and these motions serve an important role in resolving issues before the case is properly tried before a jury.

Lawyers, including personal injury lawyers, use motions in limine to determine evidentiary issues. An example in a personal injury case might be a motion in limine to exclude evidence regarding plaintiff's injuries sustained to his left-hand in car accident, which occurred in 2002. The basis for such a motion would likely be the relevance of that injury to the current case. It may also be the potential prejudice that having multiple cases may create against the plaintiff.

It is also common in personal injury cases for motions in limine to be raised regarding expert witnesses. Rather than wait for the witness to be on the stand, opposing counsel may use a motion in limine to determine the expert status of witness and/or to limit the scope of the expert to a specific area of expertise. Let's say, for example, that an orthopedic surgeon testified during her deposition as to the likely neurological effects of the injury. The defense's lawyer may file a motion in limine to limit the scope the orthopedic surgeon's testimony to matters of the musculoskeletal system and to specifically exclude any testimony pertaining to neurological or brain injuries.

It is relevant to note here that the judge may rule on motions in limine prior to the commencement of trial. Alternatively, the judge may simply instruct the lawyers for lawyer to avoid the topic in an opening statement, deferring the decision on the issue until it is ultimately raised during the elicitation of testimony. Naturally, this can be nerve-racking for the trial lawyer who does not know which pieces of evidence will ultimately be admitted and which will be excluded.

It is also important to explain that, in Massachusetts, the motion in limine is not conclusive on admissibility and the decision on appeal. Let's say, for example, that a motion in limine to exclude a piece of evidence was denied, and that when the evidence was raised during trial, the lawyer on the losing side of the motion in limine failed to object to its admissibility. In that case, the authority of the appeals court to reverse the ruling is limited to situations in which there would be the substantial miscarriage of justice. That is clearly an elevated threshold--the lawyer who lost the motion in limine to exclude the evidence should have properly acted by objecting to its admissibility a second time, on the record.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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