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The Perils Of Relying On A Co-Defendant's Objections At Trial

At trials involving multiple defendants, the question inevitably arises: may a party rely on a co-defendant’s objections at trial, or must a party join in an objection or make its own?

In a case involving multiple defendants, each party making its own objection to each piece of evidence can create an inefficient and tedious trial. Trial counsel may feel compelled to rely on another party’s already-made objection rather than repeat an objection and potentially irritate the court and jury.

A Pennsylvania case involving several different defendants demonstrates the perils of such thinking. In Amato v. Bell & Gossett, 116 A. 3d 607 (Pa. Super 2015), the 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.

An issue at trial was whether Crane supplied its product to the Navy. The 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.

So how do you avoid a jack-in-the box scenario, involving multiple defendants with the same objections? If the 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 your party.

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