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Evidence: Admissibility of Personnel Record and Driving History of Defendant’s Employee in Damages Only Trial

Posted by Ted A. Schmidt | Jul 01, 2024 | 0 Comments

Evidence: Admissibility of Personnel Record and Driving History of Defendant's Employee in Damages Only Trial

Roaf v. Stephen S. Rebuck Consulting, LLC, No. CV-23-0233-PR (June 25, 2024) (C.J. Brutinel)


Francisco Ortiz rear ended the plaintiff while working for defendant Medstar. Plaintiff sued Medstar alleging vicarious liability for Ortiz's negligent driving and direct liability for negligent hiring, supervision and retention. Compensatory and economic damages were sought but notably punitive damages were not. Medstar admitted liability but did not move to dismiss the negligent hiring claim. Plaintiff was allowed to put into evidence Ortiz's driving history (3 moving violations in 3 years before his hire) and personnel file despite Medstar's motion in limine. Essentially, the court found the evidence admissible to prove negligent hiring despite Medstar's 11th hour agreement to admit it was negligent in hiring Ortiz. The jury awarded plaintiff $4.625 million apportioning 40% fault to Ortiz and 60% fault to Medstar (on the negligent hiring count). After Medstar's motion for new trial was denied it appealed. The Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court finding no prejudicial error because the disputed evidence had not bearing on damages. The Arizona Supreme Court reversed and remanded the trial court and vacated the court of appeals.

Because plaintiff did not have a claim for punitive damages and because he claimed no separate or additional damages proximately caused by the alleged negligent hiring, the driving history and personnel file were irrelevant and should not have been admitted. 

Further, the way this evidence was presented and argued by the plaintiff created a likelihood of prejudice.

[Plaintiff] argued in closing that the jury, “as the conscience of the

community,” should punish Medstar for being “a company [that] does

wrong,” notwithstanding the lack of a punitive damages claim. [Plaintiff's]

counsel even minimized Ortiz's role in the accident at the expense of

Medstar: “[Ortiz] made a mistake. But he worked for a company that acted

badly. . . . And that's why we insist[ed] on having that [fault allocation]

instruction.” Because Medstar turned a “blind eye” in hiring and retaining

Ortiz, Medstar “should be responsible for that harm” following the

rear-end collision.

Reversed and remanded for a new trial.

About the Author

Ted A. Schmidt

Ted's early career as a trial attorney began on the other side of the fence, in the offices of a major insurance defense firm. It was there that Ted acquired the experience, the skills and the special insight into defense strategy that have served him so well in the field of personal injury law. Notable among his successful verdicts was the landmark Sparks vs. Republic National Life Insurance Company case, a $4.5 million award to Ted's client. To this day, it is the defining case for insurance bad faith, and yet it is only one of several other multi-million dollar jury judgments won by Ted during his career. He is certified by the State Bar of Arizona as a specialist in "wrongful death and bodily injury litigation".


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