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Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.

Caravan Ingredients, Inc. v. AZO, Inc., No. 13–2592–JTM, 2015 WL 1279531 (D.Kan. 2015).

This case addresses the following issue:

Can evidence that a plaintiff disciplined his or her employee after the incident in question be used by the defendant against the plaintiff in court?

This case explored the issue of whether evidence that a plaintiff disciplined his or her employee after the incident in question be used by the defendant against the plaintiff in court. In exploring this issue, the court referenced a federal rule that protected the plaintiff from including any post-incident discipline of its employees. Id. at 6.

This case involved a 30-mesh stainless steel screen purchased by the plaintiff from the defendant in 2011. Id. at 1. The steel screen was used in combination with a machine sifter that the plaintiff had purchased from the defendant in 1990. Id. Prior to the purchasing of the steel screen in 2011, the defendant informed the plaintiff that they would run the risk of metal in their product if they purchased the steel screen. Id. at 2. Nevertheless, the plaintiff purchased the steel screen and one of the plaintiff’s purchasers found metal in their product over a year later. Id. at 3. The plaintiff brought a lawsuit against the defendant and the court found that the defendant failed to fully inform the plaintiff that the screen was not viable and did not fully inform the plaintiff of the extent of the defendant’s knowledge. Id. at 2. As a result of the metal being found in the product, the plaintiff suspended and later terminated the employee who was responsible for the inspection of the product. Id. at 5. Furthermore, the defendant asked the court to include the reference of the termination of the employee into the case because they felt like it showed that the defendant was not entirely at fault in this particular situation. Id. In response to the defendant, the court decided to not let the reference of the termination of the employee be included in the case. Id.

The plaintiff’s main argument for excluding the reference to the termination of their employee into the case was that they were protected by a federal rule. Id. The federal rule had been interpreted to include employee discipline imposed as the result of an accident. Id. However, the defendant wanted the court to include the reference to the employee’s suspension and termination to show that the plaintiff was at least somewhat at fault for the metal being in the product. Id. 

The defendant made various points in order to get the court to include the employee’s termination. Id. at 6. First, the defendant argued that the reference to the employee’s termination should be included because it was “inconsistent” for the plaintiff to argue that there were no material facts demonstrating its fault, then seek protection under this federal rule. Id. The court countered this argument by referencing a federal court decision that concluded a post-accident termination of an employee was excludable under the federal rule. Id. Second, the defendant argued that the reference to the employee’s termination was admissible to show that the plaintiff accepted a duty to inspect the screen. Id. at 7. The court replied to this argument by stating that the defendant was free to show—by other, admissible evidence—that the plaintiff had a legal duty to the defendant to inspect the screen. Id. However, the termination of the employee only showed the plaintiff’s interpretation of the employee’s duty to the plaintiff, not the plaintiff’s duty to the defendant. Id. Finally, the defendant argued that the termination was relevant because it demonstrated that the plaintiff believed the employee was responsible for allowing the screen to remain in production. Id. In response, the court concluded that the defendant was entitled to show that the plaintiff’s conduct helped cause the screen failure. Id. at 8. But the defendant could not do so by evidence inherently connected to a post-accident investigation. Id. According to the court, such employee discipline reflected practical and prudential considerations, and directly involved the policy reasoning for the federal rule. Id.

In sum, the plaintiff used the federal rule to keep the suspension and termination of the employee excluded from the case. Id. Obviously, the defendant would have benefited from this being included in the case but could not find a way to get it included. Id.

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