Honaker v. Mahon

In Honaker v. Mahon, 210 W.Va. 53, 62, 552 S.E.2d 788, 797 (2001), the plaintiff was tied up in several years of litigation with her own insurance company over underinsured motorist coverage. Near the end of the trial, the attorney for the insurance company violated a pretrial order excluding certain evidence, a tactic the plaintiff argued was an attempt to "flush a losing case down the drain at plaintiff's expense." Id. Honaker v. Mahon, carved out principles of law relating to motions in limine. In Honaker v. Mahon, the plaintiff appealed an adverse jury verdict. One issue presented by the plaintiff on appeal was that the defendant introduced evidence in violation of the trial judge's ruling on a motion in limine. The Court crafted two syllabus points on the issue of a violation of a motion in limine order: 5. A deliberate and intentional violation of a trial court's ruling on a motion in limine, and thereby the intentional introduction of prejudicial evidence into a trial, is a ground for reversing a jury's verdict. However, in order for a violation of a trial court's evidentiary ruling to serve as the basis for a new trial, the ruling must be specific in its prohibitions, and the violation must be clear. 6. In deciding whether to set aside a jury's verdict due to a party's violation of a trial court's ruling on a motion in limine, a court should consider whether the evidence excluded by the court's order was deliberately introduced or solicited by the party, or whether the violation of the court's order was inadvertent. The violation of the court's ruling must have been reasonably calculated to cause, and probably did cause, the rendition of an improper judgment. A court should also consider the inflammatory nature of the violation such that a substantial right of the party seeking to set side the jury's verdict was prejudiced, and the likelihood that the violation created jury confusion, wasted the jury's time on collateral issues, or otherwise wasted scarce judicial resources. The court may also consider whether the violation could have been cured by a jury instruction to disregard the challenged evidence. (Syl. pts. 5 & 6, Honaker.) In Honaker, the Court applied the above principles and reversed the adverse jury verdict and granted the plaintiff a new trial.