Southern Pacific Transp. Co. v. Veliz

In Southern Pacific Transp. Co. v. Veliz, 117 Ariz. 199, 201, 571 P.2d 696, 698 (App. 1977), the plaintiffs sued the railroad for injuries received in an automobile-train collision allegedly the result of the railroad's negligent maintenance of its crossing. 117 Ariz. at 200, 571 P.2d at 697. The trial judge granted the plaintiffs' motion to compel the railroad to answer questions about previous lawsuits against it, including the amounts paid in settlement of other lawsuits for automobile-train collisions. Id. The railroad sought special action relief. Id. The plaintiffs contended that the settlement "figures would help them ascertain whether the railroad was aware that substantial bodily harm and death could be involved in a continued practice of failing to gate many of its crossings." Id. at 200-01, 571 P.2d 697-98. The Court rejected that claim, stating, "The mere fact that the railroad has paid out sums for failure to gate other crossings does not mean it was negligent in failing to gate this particular crossing." Id. at 201, 571 P.2d at 698. The plaintiffs also maintained that the settlement figures were "relevant to a determination of the amount of punitive damages to be levied against the railroad should such damages be awarded." Id. The Court rejected that contention as well, finding that "the mere fact that the railroad has paid out sums in the past, for whatever reasons, does nothing to show negligence let alone gross negligence on its part in the present case nor does it determine suitable figures for punitive damages purposes." Id. Reversing the trial judge's order, we noted: "It is uniformly recognized that offers of settlements of similar claims with other parties, even if arising out of the same fact situation, are inadmissible and irrelevant." Id. at 200, 571 P.2d at 697.