A recent Pennsylvania case presents the question: can a party rely on its co-defendant’s objections at trial, or must it join in an objection or make its own?
In Amato v. Bell & Gossett, 116 A. 3d 607 (Pa. Super 2015), Defendant Crane Co., a supplier of sheet gasket material, challenged two verdicts in favor of the plaintiffs in products liability wrongful death actions alleging that the decedents died due to exposure to asbestos-containing material. The actions involved several different defendants.
An issue at trial was whether Crane supplied its product to the Navy. Plaintiffs introduced a stipulation from a different case that suggested that Crane may have done so.
Crane’s co-defendant objected to the stipulation’s admission, but Crane did not object. The trial court admitted the stipulation into evidence.
On appeal, Crane argued that the stipulation should have been excluded as irrelevant and inadmissible hearsay. But because Crane relied on its co-defendant’s trial objection and failed to make its own, the appellate court ruled that Crane waived the issue for appellate review.
Preservation Issue: Whether a party can rely on another party’s objection at trial for preservation purposes?
Tips: In a case with numerous defendants, each party making its own objection to each piece of evidence can create an inefficient and tedious trial, and a trial lawyer may feel compelled to rely on another party’s already-made objection rather than repeat an objection and potentially irritate the Court and jury. The Amato case demonstrates the perils of thinking that way.
So what is the solution? If your Judge allows it, you might try to align your objections with your co-defendant(s), such that whenever your co-defendant objects you are also deemed to have objected. If you take that approach, or any other creative approach to streamlining objections and use of exhibits, you must memorialize your position on the record and make it clear that you are not waiving your objections. For example, you may want to file a notice with the court prior to trial indicating that any objection by co-defendant X should be deemed as an objection on your behalf. Additionally, you may want to make a statement on the record at the beginning of trial to this effect. And, do not forget to indicate on the record if you intend to join in any motions for mistrial made by another party and to express any additional grounds that might be unique to you.