Summary of Randall v. Warnaco, Inc., Hirsch-Weis Division, 677 F.2d 1226 (8th Cir. 1982)
Facts: Mrs. Randall was seriously burned while camping with a friend. Her friend had modified the tent to accommodate a small stove. They would use small twigs and charcoal fluid, but when they ran out of charcoal fluid, they began to use camping fuel to start the fires inside the stove. After the fire had gone out one night, Randal drizzled some fuel onto a log, and as she began to insert it into the stove it ignited both herself and the tent.
Issue: Whether the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted video-tape evidence showing the absorption properties of the wood, by duplicating the accident scene?
Holding: No, not to show the absorption properties of wood obtained from the same location.
Procedure: Action against tent manufacturer for injuries under strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranty theories-failure to notice flammability, and failure to provide second exit. Pl dropped breach of warranty claim. D Ct dismissed claim of negligence, and special jury verdict for Df on the strict liability claim.
Rule: A court may properly admit experimental evidence if the tests were conducted under conditions substantially similar to the actual conditions. Admissibility does not depend on perfect identity between actual and experimental conditions.
Rationale: As an experiment to demonstrate the absorption properties of the wooden logs, the evidence was properly admissible and relevant to support the Df’s theory that the injuries had occurred as a result of the Pl’s actions–the burns occurred when fuel ran off the log onto the floor of the tent. The experimental evidence may have served the permissible purpose of demonstrating certain physical properties, but it is likely to have served an impermissible purpose of reenacting the accident for the jury. In duplicating the accident scene, the Df sought to prove more than the physical properties of the wood; it portrayed to the jury that on the night in question the Pl, like the five actresses, poured fuel on herself and the tent. The admission of this evidence could be deemed unduly prejudicial, but the appellants failed to object on this ground.
Pl A: The court admitted the video-taped evidence without proper foundation.
Df A: The evidence depicted similar occurrence evidence that was relevant to the Df’s claim–absorption properties of the wood.