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Aszmus v. Metro-North Railroad Co.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 25, 2019

GARRY ASZMUS, Plaintiff,
v.
METRO-NORTH RAILROAD COMPANY, Defendant.

          RULING ON MOTIONS IN LIMINE

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On the night of March 2, 2017, Garry Aszmus (“Plaintiff”), who worked as a Lineman for Metro-North Railroad Company (“Defendant, ” or “Metro-North”), fell after “his foot caught on unlevel black pavement.” Joint Trial Mem., ECF No. 45, at 2 (“Nature of the Case . . . . Stipulations of Fact and Law[.]”).

         On December 20, 2017, Mr. Aszmus filed this case under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (“FELA”), 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq.

         Before the trial scheduled on July 8, 2019, the parties filed five motions in limine: (1) Mr. Aszmus moves to preclude evidence of his other accidents and injuries, and specific workplace disciplinary incidents, Pl. Mot. in limine to Preclude Evid. of Unrelated Accidents, Injuries or Claims and of Any Discipline, ECF No. 46; (2) Mr. Aszmus moves to preclude evidence of benefits received from the Railroad Retirement Board, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and others, Pl. Mot. in limine to Preclude Any Ev. of Collateral Source Benefits from Any Source, ECF No. 47; (3) Mr. Aszmus moves to preclude Metro-North from offsetting sick leave benefits from any judgment obtained in this action, Pl. Mot. in limine to Preclude Metro-North from Offsetting Collateral Source Sick Leave Benefits from Any J., ECF No. 48; (4) Metro-North moves to preclude certain testimony from Mr. Aszmus's replacement medical expert, Dr. Murphy, Mot. in limine Re: Medical Op. Test., ECF No. 56; and (5) Metro-North moves to preclude Plaintiff's counsel from making certain punitive damages statements to the jury, Mot. in limine Re: Arg. On Type of Damages Recoverable, ECF No. 57.

         For the reasons below, the Court rules as follows: (1) Mr. Aszmus's motion to preclude evidence of unrelated injuries and workplace disciplinary incidents, ECF No. 46, is DENIED without prejudice to the possibility of renewal at trial; (2) Mr. Aszmus's motion to preclude evidence of collateral source benefits, ECF No. 47, is DENIED without prejudice to the possibility of renewal at trial; (3) Mr. Aszmus's motion to preclude Metro-North from offsetting sick leave benefits from any judgment obtained in this action, ECF No. 48, is DENIED without prejudice to the possibility of renewal at trial; (4) Metro-North's motion to preclude certain testimony from Mr. Aszmus's replacement medical expert, Dr. Murphy, ECF No. 56, is DENIED in part as to any testimony regarding the number of ribs allegedly fractured by Mr. Aszmus and otherwise DENIED without prejudice to the possibility of renewal at trial; and (5) Metro-North's motion to preclude Plaintiff's counsel from making certain punitive damages statements to the jury, ECF No. 57, is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part without prejudice to the possibility of renewal at trial.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         On March 2, 2017, Mr. Aszmus worked as a Lineman at Metro-North's Stamford, Connecticut station. Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶ 8; Joint Trial Mem. at 2. While “walking to the back of a Metro-North truck, ” he allegedly tripped on uneven and unconnected pavement and fell to the ground.” Compl. ¶ 9. He seeks to hold Metro-North “legally responsible for the accident site including any maintenance, repairs, or improvements.” Joint Trial Mem. at 2 (Stipulations of Fact and Law”) (citing 12/20/2018 MNR Resp. to Req. to Admit).

         Mr. Aszmus alleges that Metro-North failed to properly light, level, grade, fill, inspect, and repair the area where he fell. Compl. ¶ 11. He claims that Metro-North did not have routine inspection policies in place or failed to post warnings about the condition of the pavement where he fell. Id. As a result of his fall, Mr. Aszmus allegedly sustained a “broken wrist, several broken ribs and severe contusions to his face.” Compl. ¶ 12. Mr. Aszmus also allegedly “lost wages and benefits, incurred medical expenses, suffered physical pain and mental anguish and will continue to do so in the future, and has an impairment to his future earning capacity.” Compl. ¶ 14.

         B. Procedural Background

         On December 20, 2017, Mr. Aszmus filed his Complaint against Metro-North. Compl.

         On February 23, 2018 Metro-North filed its Answer, largely denying and claiming insufficient knowledge of the claims in Mr. Aszmus's Complaint. Answer, ECF No. 12. Metro-North also asserted three affirmative defenses: (1) Mr. Aszmus's “injuries and damages were caused in whole or in part by his own carelessness and negligence” (e.g., failure to observe his surroundings), id. at 3; (2) Metro-North is “entitled to a set off and/or credit for payments made by it or on its behalf to the plaintiff or on the plaintiff's behalf for medical expenses and other benefits for which it is entitled to credit or right of reimbursement pursuant to any applicable collective bargaining agreement, ” id.; and (3) Mr. Aszmus “failed to properly and adequately mitigate any damages he may have suffered or sustained.” id.

         On May 10, 2019, the parties filed their joint trial memorandum, Joint Trial Mem., and motions in limine, ECF Nos. 46-48, 56-57.

         On May 16, 2019, Plaintiff filed a supplement to the joint trial memorandum. Pl. Supp. to the Parties' Joint Trial Mem., ECF No. 58.

         On May 31, 2019, the parties filed their objections to the motions in limine. Pl. Mem. in Opp. to Def. Mot. in limine Re: Medical Op. Test., ECF No. 59; Pl. Mem. in Opp. to Metro-North's Mot. in limine Re: Arg. on Type of Damages Recoverable, ECF No. 60; Obj. to Mot. in limine Re: Prior Discipline, Accidents, and Injuries, ECF No. 61; Obj. to Mot. in limine Re: Collateral Sources & Sick Leave, ECF No. 62.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Motions in limine provide district courts the opportunity to rule in advance of trial on the admissibility and relevance of certain forecasted evidence. See Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 40 n.2; Palmieri v. Defaria, 88 F.3d 136, 141 (2d Cir. 1996). “A district court's inherent authority to manage the course of its trials encompasses the right to rule on motions in limine.” Highland Capital Mgmt., L.P. v. Schneider, 551 F.Supp.2d 173, 176 (S.D.N.Y. 2008).

         A court should only exclude evidence on motions in limine if the evidence is clearly inadmissible on all potential grounds. Levinson v. Westport Nat'l Bank, No. 09-cv-1955 (VLB), 2013 WL 3280013, at *3 (D. Conn. June 27, 2013). The court also retains discretion to reserve judgment on some or all motions in limine until trial so that the motions are placed in the appropriate factual context. See In re Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE) Prods. Liab. Litig., 643 F.Supp.2d 471, 476 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) (quoting United States v. Chan, 184 F.Supp.2d 337, 340 (S.D.N.Y. 2002)); Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa. v. L.E. Myers Co., 937 F.Supp. 276, 287 (S.D.N.Y. 1996); Silver v. Law Offices of Howard Lee Schiff, P.C., No. 3:09CV912 (PCD), 2010 WL 3000053, at *5 (D. Conn. July 28, 2010).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Accident, Injury, and Workplace Discipline Evidence

          Rule 403 permits courts to “exclude [any] relevant[1] evidence 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.

         Mr. Aszmus moves to preclude evidence of five accidents or injuries, mostly motorcycle-related, and five disciplinary incidents. Pl. Mot. in limine to Preclude Evid. of Unrelated Accidents, Injuries or Claims and of Any Discipline at 1-2. He argues that the admission of prior injuries or disciplinary incidents could prejudice the jury “to think the plaintiff is injury prone or accident prone . . . or a bad person.” Pl. Mot. in limine to Preclude Evid. of Unrelated Accidents, Injuries or Claims and of Any Discipline at 3. He further argues that these accidents, injuries, and infractions are not relevant to this case and that any probative value from their ...


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