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The Admissibility of “Absence” Evidence

Posted on January 3, 2019

Every personal injury claim in Birmingham centers on evidence. Evidence can be a fact, exhibit, or display that proves the validity of an assertion. It is up to the attorneys of both the plaintiff and the defendant in a case to use evidence to prove their points. The civil courts in Alabama, however, will not agree to hear every piece of evidence. Evidence must fulfill strict standards for the courts to render it admissible. A unique type of evidence that mainly arises in product liability claims is absence evidence.

What Is Absence Evidence?

An injured party, or plaintiff, may use past incidents involving a product as evidence against the defendant in a product liability lawsuit in Alabama. Using evidence of prior incidents can be strong proof that the product contains a defect. In a defective brakes claim, for example, a plaintiff may use other car accidents involving the same brakes as evidence against the defendant in the current case. If a defendant tries to use an absence of prior incidents with a product as a defense, it is absence evidence.

Absence evidence refers to the fact an event has had no prior occurrences, entered by the defendant as evidence. A defendant’s lawyer may use absence evidence to argue against the defectiveness of a product. This argument would assert that because no prior documented occurrences of the same or similar events exist, the product most likely does not contain a defect now. In other words, the defendant is using the absence of incidents as evidence of the product’s lack of defects.

As an example of a defendant using absence evidence in a product liability case, suppose a plaintiff suddenly comes forward with a claim regarding a child’s toy that had been around for 20 years. The plaintiff may claim that a defect in the toy’s design caused a child’s injury, yet the same toy had not caused any injuries for the last 20 years. The defendant may be able to use absence evidence to establish the low likelihood of the toy containing said defect, since no one else had complained of a similar experience in two decades. That is, if the courts agree to allow it as admissible evidence.

When Will the Courts Permit Absence Evidence?

When one party wishes to use absence evidence in a lawsuit, the court will determine whether it is fair to present this evidence to the jury. This determination will include a confirmation of the accuracy of no prior events. The courts will have to look into the history of a product or company in a product liability claim and check that no prior incidents exist. If an absence of events is accurate, the courts will then gauge the evidence’s usefulness in a case.

Absence evidence may not apply to what the plaintiff is alleging happened in a case. If no logical connection exists between what the defendant claims the evidence shows and what it actually shows, the courts will not admit the absence evidence into a case. In other words, if absence evidence is not relevant to the facts of the case, the courts may not allow it to enter as evidence.

Another argument against admitting absence evidence is that the event in question is the first of its kind. It is possible that the plaintiff has the very first case of a product defect, even if the item or company has a history of safety. It is also possible that other consumers had many near-events with the item in question, even if an event never occurred. If the absence evidence does not show what it intends to show – that a product is safe – the courts may render it irrelevant and inadmissible in the current case.