Key Point Generally, evidence of corrective or remedial actions taken after an accident or injury are not admissible in evidence to prove negligence, since this would discourage persons from correcting dangerous conditions.
A Connecticut court ruled that a sexual abuse victim could not obtain copies of all sex abuse training materials used or distributed by a Catholic diocese in a lawsuit he brought against the diocese. A Catholic diocese was sued by a person (the "plaintiff") who allegedly was sexually abused by a priest in 1978. The plaintiff requested copies of "any and all sexual abuse training materials" that were "distributed or utilized within the diocese." The plaintiff claimed that post-1978 materials were relevant since they would tend to show preventative actions that could have been taken in 1978 and before, and that they would "tend to show later corrective action and that at some point the diocese was assuming responsibility for discovering and preventing such wrongdoing."
Connecticut Rule of Evidence § 4-7(a) provides that "evidence of measures taken after an event, which if taken before the event would have made injury or damage less likely to result, is inadmissible to prove negligence or culpable conduct in connection with the event." The court explained that "the rule barring evidence of subsequent repairs in negligence actions … presupposes that to admit evidence of subsequent repairs to an identified hazardous condition as proof of negligence penalizes the defendant for taking remedial measures. This discourages [persons] from repairing hazards, thereby perpetuating the danger. This policy fosters the public good by allowing persons to repair hazards without providing proof of negligence."
The court concluded that in this case the rule "prohibits evidence which tends to show subsequent preventative actions that could have been taken in 1978 and before; or which tends to show later corrective action …. Later sexual abuse training materials do not appear to be reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence."
Application. Victims of sexual misconduct often subpoena sexual abuse training materials in lawsuits brought against a church or other entity in which the misconduct occurred. This case suggests that churches may be able to object to such requests on the ground that they seek evidence of subsequent corrective action that is generally inadmissible in a negligence lawsuit. 2008 WL 4925980 (Conn. Super. 2008).
This Recent Development first appeared in Church Law & Tax Report, July/August 2009.