United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
KAYLEE EVELER et al.
FORD MOTOR CO.
ORDER AND REASONS
M. AFRICK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court are two motions in limine filed by Ford.
See R. Doc. Nos. 68, 70. For the following reasons,
the motions are granted in part, deferred in part, denied in
part, and dismissed as moot in part.
moves under Rules 401 and 403 to exclude certain Ford
development documents concerning vehicles other that the
particular generation of Ford Explorer at issue in this case.
is relevant if (a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or
less probable than it would be without the evidence; and (b)
the fact is of consequence in determining the action.”
Fed.R.Evid. 401. Relevant evidence is admissible unless
otherwise provided by the Constitution, a federal statute,
another Federal Rule of Evidence, or another rule prescribed
by the Supreme Court. Fed.R.Evid. 402.
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.
outset, the Court rejects Ford's blanket assertion that
any documents relating to Ford vehicles other than the one at
issue are necessarily irrelevant. “[T]he standard of
relevance in an evidentiary context is not a steep or
difficult one to satisfy, ” Pub. Emps. Retirement
Sys. of Miss. v. Amedisys, Inc., 769 F.3d 313, 321 (5th
Cir. 2014), and many of the documents that Ford seeks to
exclude have information regarding the physics of rollovers
and rollover testing procedures that are indubitably relevant
to evaluating the parties' competing theories of the
the admissibility of the documents largely turns on Rule 403.
Rule 403 is meant to be applied “sparingly.”
Baker v. Can. Nat./Ill. Cent. R.R., 536 F.3d 357,
369 (5th Cir. 2008). Therefore, this Court will not entirely
exclude all documents referring to Ford vehicles other than
the Ford Explorer at issue. That is particularly true as Ford
has the ability to mitigate any jury confusion and/or
prejudice through the use of cross-examination that points
out the differences between, for example, the 2001 Ford
Explorer and the Ford Bronco. Knowing the differences between
a Ford Explorer and a Ford Bronco is not exactly rocket
science, and the Court fully expects that the jurors-most of
whom likely own automobiles-will have no trouble being
cognizant of the differences. The Court may also be willing
to consider providing an appropriate limiting instruction for
such exhibits, should Ford propose one.
real Rule 403 concern here is whether a particular exhibit
would result in “time-consuming mini-trials on 
minimally relevant issues.” In re Paoli R.R. Yard
PCB Litig., 113 F.3d 444, 454 (3d Cir. 1997). And having
reviewed the plaintiffs' proposed exhibits, some of them
certainly threaten to bog the Court and the jury down in time
consuming mini-trials, the main purpose of which is to
embarrass Ford on issues that have little relevance to the
main issues in this case. The Court will exclude some, but
not all, of plaintiffs' proposed exhibits.
those general principles in mind, the Court turns to
Ford's objections to specific documents.
moves to exclude any reference to two development documents
relating to the Ford Bronco. The Court denies Ford's
objections to the two Ford Bronco documents.
first document Ford moves to exclude is a 1973 letter from
Ford to NHTSA concerning NHTSA's request for comment
regarding the development of a rollover performance standard.
Pl. Ex. 41. Ford objects that the document is irrelevant and
that plaintiffs cannot lay a foundation necessary to support
the argument that the statements in the letter were meant to
apply to a sport utility vehicle.
central problem with Ford's arguments is that the
document is relevant to proper rollover testing
procedures-which is a hotly debated issue between the
parties-regardless of whether it speaks to the specific issue
of whether the 2001 Ford Explorer was defectively designed.
For example, Ford's memorandum argues in favor of
human-driven rollover tests. See, e.g., Pl. Ex. 41,
at 6-7; Pl. Ex. 41, at 22. That directly contradicts
Ford's argument in this case that human-driven tests are
not based in science. As such, the Court finds that the
document-though certainly old-will help the jury evaluate
plaintiffs' expert opinion that human-driven rollover
tests can be helpful in determining whether a vehicle has a
propensity to rollover. The Court notes that Ford can
mitigate any unfair prejudice relating to the age of the
document with effective cross-examination, particularly given
that the jury should have little trouble understanding that
technology has advanced since 1973. Therefore, the Court
finds that the probative value of plaintiffs' exhibit 41
is not 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.
next moves to exclude a Ford Bronco development document
suggesting that Ford should take into account the effect that
passengers have on a vehicle's center of gravity when
testing for rollover proclivity. Pl. Ex. 49. The exhibit
includes a graph suggesting that a vehicle's rollover
proclivity increases when there are more passengers in a
vehicle. Pl. Ex. 49, at 2. Thus, the exhibit is directly
relevant to plaintiffs' theory that the higher a
vehicle's center of gravity is-all other things being
held equal-the more likely that vehicle is to rollover. That
is directly relevant to plaintiff's liability theory, and
the Court concludes that Ford can mitigate any unfair
prejudice through cross-examination. Therefore, the Court
finds that the probative value of plaintiffs' exhibit 49
is not substantially ...