Summary of Crumpton v. Confederation Life Insurance Co., 672 F.2d 1248 (1982)
Facts: Pl, the daughter-beneficiary of the deceased, sought recovery on his accidental death policy through the insurer-defendant Confederate, after he was shot by a neighbor who claimed he had raped and threatened her five days prior. The Df filed a motion in limine seeking to prohibit the admission of evidence of any fact regarding or relating to the deceased’s character or reputation. DENIED, along with JNOV. During the trial the Pl called several witnesses who testified as to the deceased’s character.
Issue: Whether the D. Ct. properly admitted prejudicial evidence of the character of the insured?
Procedure: Jury verdict for the pl/beneficiary; Df appealed. U.S. Ct. of App. Affirmed.
Rule: The admission of evidence of character depends on the purpose for which that evidence is offered. Generally, this type is offered for two purposes: 1) when a person’s possession of a particular character trait is an operative fact in determining the legal rights and liabilities for the party and thus is one of the ultimate issues of the case; or 2) to prove circumstantially that a person acted in conformity with his character on a particular occasion.
Rationale: The use of character evidence for the first purpose is referred to as character at issue, and when used for such a purpose, it is not within the scope of FRE 404, which applies to the second use. FRE 404(a) governs the admission of character evidence when used for the circumstantial purpose and generally excludes admission of such evidence UNLESS within three exceptions. These exceptions are formulated in terms of whose character is being offered, and which allow the admission of character evidence to prove action in conformity with character of the accused, a victim in certain circumstances, and a witness. Exclusion occurs because of prejudicial harm. FRE 404(a) is not relevant where character is the ultimate issue.
The deceased’s character was put at issue by the defense, when claimed that the deceased should have anticipated bodily injury, and therefore his character was not within FRE 404, which usually only applies to criminal cases, it can, under unusual circumstances, be applicable in a civil case. Absent a showing that substantial rights of the party were adversely affected, no reversal is warranted.
Pl A: The facts of the case, i.e. rape, placed the character of the deceased at issue as to whether he had a propensity to act in the manner asserted as a defense.
Df A: The death did not result from an accident because the decedent should have foresaw that his actions would result in bodily injury. The admission of character testimony not only violated FRE 404, but it was also prejudicial, constituting virtually the only direct evidence adduced to satisfy the Pl’s burden.