If you are involved in a serious personal injury claim that is on its way to trial in Rhode Island it is important to understand that Rhode Island is the only State in the Country that allows evidence of subsequent remedial measures to suggest negligence on the part of another. My non-attorney readers are probably lost, but I promise to explain why it is important. As a Rhode Island personal injury trial attorney, this rule of evidence gives us a tremendous tool that most of our sister States do not have.
First, the obvious question – what are subsequent remedial measures. These are steps taken by a person to remedy or fix a situation that previously led to injury. For example, if you slip and fall down a flight of stairs in your apartment building because of a broken step and the landowner repairs the step that night – he or she has taken subsequent remedial measures to insure that no one else is injured. The very fact, however, that the landowner needed to do a repair suggests that something was wrong that needed to be fixed. In Rhode Island, according to Rule of Evidence 407, you can use the evidence of the repair to impress upon the jury that something must have been wrong if the person took steps to correct the problem.
When, after an event, measures are taken which, if taken previously, would have made the event less likely to occur, evidence of the subsequent measures is admissible.
The Federal Rules of Evidence and the other 49 States do not allow this evidence to be used against a person to demonstrate negligence. Why? Every one else believes that it is better public policy that a person remedy a potentially harmful situation rather than leave it unchanged because he or she is afraid of the repair being used as evidence of negligence at trial. In other words, if a person knows that he may be admitting fault by making necessary repairs, he is less likely to do so and this leaves the possibility that more people may be injured. Therefore, in the Federal Courts and the other 49 States you can only use evidence of subsequent remedial measures to demonstrate ownership of the property and not as evidence of negligence.
This scenario comes up most frequently in Rhode Island slip and fall cases, i.e. a crack in the sidewalk, or a loose stair, or broken rail that causes one to fall and sustain personal injury. If you are aware that the owner took steps to fix the situation, try to obtain pictures of the changes because at your trial in Rhode Island it is admissible evidence.