• Product Liability & Agency Investigations
  • August 5, 2008 | Author: Henry Chajet
  • Law Firm: Patton Boggs LLP - Washington Office
  • The United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that an accident report by a federal agency (MSHA), casting blame on the involved equipment, (and by implication OSHA, DOT, or other agency reports), was presumed to be admissible evidence.
    In Kennedy v Joy Tech, Inc.; Matric, Ltd, No 06-23007 (Mar 12, 2008) (unpublished opinion), the Circuit reversed a District Judge who dismissed a case against an equipment manufacturer at the Motions stage, labeling the MSHA report "speculative." The Circuit Court's discussion provides insights for strategies to prevent untrustworthy reports from increasing liability risks.

    [T]he MSHA Report's conclusion implicates the provisions of Federal Rule of Evidence 803(8)(C). That hearsay exception specifically addresses the use in evidence of "factual findings resulting from an investigation made pursuant to authority granted by law." Fed. R. Evid. 803 (8) (C).l1 It specifies that:

    The following are not excluded by the hearsay rule, even though the declarant is available as a witness. (8) ... Records, reports, statements, or data compilations, in any form, of public offices or agencies, setting forth (C) [when used] in civil actions and proceedings . . . factual findings resulting from an investigation made pursuant to authority granted by law, unless the sources of information or other circumstances indicate lack of trustworthiness.

    Under Rule 803(8)(C), the evidentiary admissibility of public records and reports is deemed to be presumed, based on the policy determination that such admissibility is warranted "because of the reliability of the public agencies usually conducting the investigation, and their lack of motive for conducting the studies other than to inform the public fairly and adequately." Ellis v. Int'l Plavtex, Inc., 745 F.2d 292, 300 (4th Cir. 1984...

    ....

    When the trustworthiness of such an investigative report has been challenged, a court should assess and weigh factors such as: (1) the timeliness of the investigation; (2) the special skill or experience of the investigators; and (3) any possible motivation problems. Ellis, 745 F.2d at 300-01. We have also identified other factors that may, in the proper circumstances, be appropriate to such an evidentiary assessment, including "unreliability, inadequate investigation, inadequate foundation for conclusions, [and] invasion of the jury's province."

    ....

    In light of the foregoing, the district court necessarily abused its discretion in excluding the MSHA Report's conclusion from its summary judgment assessment. First and foremost, the court failed to recognize and apply a presumption of admissibility to the MSHA Report....