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The Court Of Appeals Provides Clarity To The Issue Of Whether A Denial To A Request For Admission May Be Used As Evidence At Trial—Not Ordinarily.

March 17, 2015 | Topic: Product Liability

The Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, recently held in Gonsalves v. Li (Cal. App. 1st Dist. 2015) 232 Cal.App.4th 1406, that although the Code of Civil Procedure allows a party to submit deposition testimony and responses to interrogatories as evidence at trial, it does not expressly provide for the introduction of denials of requests for admission.

Plaintiff Gonsalves, a car salesman for BMW, sustained significant back injuries while riding as a passenger in a BMW being test driven by Defendant Ran Li.  (Id. at p. 1408.)  Gonsalves alleged that Li drove the vehicle recklessly, causing the collision.  (Id. at p. 1408.)  During trial, Gonsalves’ attorney questioned Li, not about his admissions to requests, but his failure to admit certain facts.  (Id. at p. 1412.)  Rather than admit in discovery that he was driving too fast for the conditions, Li’s responses indicated that he lacked sufficient information or knowledge to admit the request.  (Id. at p. 1412.)  Over Li’s attorneys’ objections, Gonsalves’ attorney questioned Li at length about this response at trial.  (Id. at pp. 1412-1413.)  Over Li’s objections, the trial court also admitted Li’s written responses to requests for admission into evidence.  (Id. at p. 1413.)  A jury found Li negligent and awarded Gonsalves $1.2 million.  (Id. at pp. 1408, 1411.)

Li appealed arguing that the trial court erroneously admitted into evidence Li’s qualified denials to requests for admission.  (Id. at pp. 1412, 1414.)  Li argued that the discovery statute specifically provides that while deposition testimony, interrogatories, and even admissions may be admitted into evidence at trial, the statute does not specifically provide that a denial may be admitted into evidence.  (Id. at p. 1414.)  Gonsalves argued that the statute is silent as to whether denials are admissible and leaves the issue to the discretion of the trial court.  (Id. at p. 1414.)

The Court of Appeal looked at authority in other jurisdictions, which found that denials are not admissible as evidence at trial, since the purpose of requests for admission are to narrow the scope of issues that are not in dispute.  (Id. at pp. 1416-1417.)  The Court agreed with Li finding that denials of requests for admission are not admissible into evidence and remanded for a new trial.  (Id. at pp. 1408, 1412, 1417-1418.) 

Gonsalves highlights and reminds counsel of the importance of responding to Requests for Admission because they are a powerful discovery tool.