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Mills v. Riggsbee

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

December 3, 2013

MARK S. RIGGSBEE, et al., Defendants.


KAREN K. CALDWELL, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon the motion in limine filed by the Defendants, Mark S. Riggsbee and Task Force Tips, Inc. (collectively, "Defendants"), seeking to preclude Plaintiffs, Ronald Mills and Malinda Mills (collectively, "Plaintiffs") and Third-Party Defendant, City of Berea, Kentucky, from introducing any evidence or referring to a videotape made by Plaintiff Ronald Mills of the Berea Fire Department security video monitor [DE #72]. This matter is fully briefed and is ripe for review.

I. Background

Defendant Task Force Tips is the manufacturer, producer and/or seller of various firefighting equipment, including a device known as the Blitz-Fire Monitor fire hose water regulator. The Blitz-Fire Monitor is a device that sits on the ground and is attached to the end of a fire department fire hose and allows firefighters to fight fires without hand-holding the fire hose. Part of the monitor's design includes an automatic shut-off system.

Plaintiffs contend that Plaintiff Ronald Mills, a firefighter for the City of Berea, was injured on October 13, 2011, when he attended a sales demonstration of the Blitz-Fire Monitor performed at the Berea Fire Department by Defendant, Mark Riggsbee. For purposes of the demonstration, the monitor was attached to a fire hose attached to a Berea Fire Department pumper truck. During the demonstration, the fire hose came loose from the pumper truck, knocking Mills off his feet and causing him injury. Plaintiffs claim that the fire hose detached from the truck because of "water hammer, " a condition that the monitor was supposed to eliminate. "Water hammer" occurs from the back flow of water when a fire hose is shut off too quickly, causing a build-up of pressure. Defendants deny that water hammer occurred and instead claim that the accident was caused by a faulty fire hose.

Three weeks after the accident, Plaintiff Ronald Mills and his daughter took a video camera to the Berea Fire Department and recorded the Fire Department's security video footage from the day of the accident. Plaintiffs' recording shows a computer screen, which displayed four separate scenes recorded from different angles by four different security cameras, none of which were focused on the side of the fire truck where the accident occurred. The cameras are positioned on the front, rear, and both sides of the fire station. During the demonstration, the fire truck being used was parked on one side of the fire station. A camera positioned on this area shows one side of the truck with the fire hose coming out behind it. However, the side of the truck where the fire hose was connected to the pumper (and where the accident occurred) is completely obstructed from view. From the video, it appears that the fire hose ran through the fire station to the other side of the station where Riggsbee's demonstration was taking place. A camera positioned on this side of the fire station shows the demonstration. However, the portion of the fire hose running through the station cannot be seen. During portions of the video that Plaintiff seeks to introduce, the camera (which was being operated by Plaintiff or his daughter) zooms in to focus on one particular frame at the exclusion of the others. Thus, the viewers of the video taken by Plaintiffs are unable to see the activity captured by the other cameras. In addition, the video re-plays portions of the security footage.

Due to an apparent oversight, the actual security video from the Berea Fire Department was erased before a copy was made. Thus, Plaintiffs seek to introduce this "video of a video" as evidence at trial.

II. Standard for Rule 402 and Rule 403 Motions in Limine

In Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), the Supreme Court discussed the admissibility of evidence as follows:

Rule 402 provides the baseline:

All relevant evidence is admissible, except as otherwise provided by the Constitution of the United States, by Act of Congress, by these rules, or by other rules prescribed by the Supreme Court pursuant to statutory authority. Evidence which is not relevant is not admissible.
"Relevant evidence" is defined as that which has "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." Rule 401. The Rule's basic standard of relevance thus is a liberal one.

Id. at 587. The Sixth Circuit recognized many years ago that a court should not "deprive plaintiffs of their legitimate right to place before the jury the circumstances and atmosphere of the entire cause of action which they have brought into the court, replacing it with a sterile or laboratory atmosphere...." In re Beverly Hills Fire Litigation, 695 F.2d 207, 217 (6th Cir. 1982).

However, under Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, even relevant evidence may be excluded "if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence." Fed.R.Evid. 403. Federal courts have held that Rule 403 is an extraordinary remedy and carries a strong presumption in favor of admissibility. U.S. v. Grant, 25 ...

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