Anderson-Wallace v. Rusk, 2021 UT App 10 (Feb. 4, 2021)

In this wrongful death case, plaintiff argued that the semi-truck driver defendant negligently drove on the shoulder of a freeway exit, striking and killing the decedent.  The driver and her employer argued that the decedent darted into the truck’s lane of travel in a suicide attempt.  They also sought to introduce evidence showing the decedent was seriously intoxicated at the time of the accident and had struggled with debilitating alcohol abuse in the months prior.  The trial court excluded this evidence at trial, concluding that the risk of “unfair prejudice” to the plaintiff substantially outweighed the evidence’s probative value under Utah R. Evid. 403.  On appeal from a substantial jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff, the Utah Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the trial court abused its discretion and prejudiced the defense by excluding the evidence of the decedent’s intoxication and history of alcohol abuse.  The evidence was highly probative on both the issue of liability and the extent of general damages, and any prejudice to the plaintiff was not “unfair” simply because it was damaging to the plaintiff’s case.