Johnson v. Arizona – 7/8/2010

July 16, 2010

Arizona Supreme Court Holds That Evidence of Subsequent Remedial Measures Is Not Admissible to Rebut Defense of Comparative Negligence.

A man was killed when he drove his vehicle into the back of a dump truck that had recently turned onto a highway after leaving a mining pit.  The decedent’s wife (“Plaintiff”) sued the State of Arizona, alleging negligent design and maintenance of the intersection.  The State denied negligence and alleged that the decedent was comparatively at fault.

Plaintiff sought to introduce evidence that, after the accident, the State posted a truck-crossing sign and allowed the mining company to install a variable message board near the intersection.  Plaintiff argued the evidence was admissible because the subsequent measures were taken without knowledge of the accident.  She also argued the evidence was admissible to rebut the State’s allegation that the decedent was comparatively negligent and to prove the State’s knowledge of the dangerous intersection.  The trial court ruled the evidence inadmissible under Arizona Rule of Evidence 407.

The jury returned a verdict for the State.  The Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed.  Plaintiff appealed.  The Arizona Supreme Court accepted the review, vacated the Court of Appeals decision, and affirmed the trial court’s judgment in favor of the State. 

Rule 407 precludes admission of subsequent remedial measures to prove negligence or culpable conduct.  The rule permits the use of such evidence for another purpose, however, such as to prove ownership, control, or feasibility of precautionary measures, if controverted, or for impeachment. 

The Court held that the rule applies even if the remedial measures are not taken with specific knowledge of the accident in question.  The trial court also correctly determined that the evidence was not admissible for an alternative purpose.  The fact that a defendant denies fault and alleges comparative negligence does not, alone, justify the admission of subsequent remedial measure evidence as impeachment.  Finally, the evidence was not admissible to prove the State’s knowledge of the dangerous condition of the intersection because admission on that basis would violate the prohibition against using such evidence to prove negligence.

Justice Pelander wrote the opinion for the unanimous Court.