Settlement Negotiations: Section 1152, subdivision (a), provides, “Evidence that a person has, in compromise … furnished or offered or promised to furnish money or any other thing … to another who has sustained … loss or damage, as well as any conduct or statements made in negotiation thereof, is inadmissible to prove his or her liability for the loss or damage or any part of it.” Section 1154 provides, “Evidence that a person has … offered … to accept a sum of money or any other thing … in satisfaction of a claim, as well as any conduct or statements made in negotiation thereof, is inadmissible to prove the invalidity of the claim or any part of it.”
Both provisions are based on the public policy in favor of the settlement of disputes without litigation and are intended to promote candor in settlement negotiations: “The rule prevents parties from being deterred from making offers of settlement and facilitates the type of candid discussion that may lead to settlement.” (Carney v. Santa Cruz Women Against Rape (1990), 221 Cal.App.3d 1009, 1023, 271 Cal.Rptr. 30; see Caira v. Offner (2005) 126 Cal.App.4th 12, 32, 24 Cal.Rptr.3d 233; Hasler v. Howard (2004) 120 Cal.App.4th 1023, 1026, 16 Cal.Rptr.3d 217; see generally Cal. Law Revision Com. com., 29B West’s Ann. Evid. Code (1995 ed.) foll. § 1154, p. 532 [“Section 1154 stems from the same policy of encouraging settlement and compromise that is reflected in Section 1152”].)
“The Law Revision Commission comment accompanying the enactment of Evidence Code section 1152 specifically emphasized that the statute was drafted to include statements made in the context of settlement negotiations: ‘The words “as well as any conduct or statements made in negotiation thereof make it clear that statements made by parties during negotiations for the settlement of a claim may not be used as admissions in later litigation…. The rule excluding offers is based upon the public policy in favor of the settlement of disputes without litigation. The same public policy requires that admissions made during settlement negotiations also be excluded….'” (Caira v. Offner, supra, 126 Cal.App.4th at p. 32, 24 Cal.Rptr.3d 233.)
Standard of Review
A trial court’s ruling on the admissibility of evidence is generally reviewed for abuse of discretion. (E.g., People v. Williams (1997), 16 Cal.4th 153, 196-197, 66 Cal.Rptr.2d 123, 940 P.2d 710[“[i]n determining the admissibility of evidence, the trial court has broad discretion…. On appeal, a trial court’s decision to admit or not admit evidence, whether made in limine or following a hearing pursuant to Evidence Code section 402, is reviewed only for abuse of discretion”]; accord, People v. Alvarez (1996) 14 Cal.4th 155, 203, 58 Cal.Rptr.2d 385, 926 P.2d 365 [“appellate court reviews any ruling by a trial court as to the admissibility of evidence for abuse of discretion”]; Austin B. v. Escondido Union School Dist. (2007), 149 Cal.App.4th 860, 885, 57 Cal.Rptr.3d 454[“[w]e review a trial court’s decision to admit or exclude evidence under the abuse of discretion standard”].) Relying on this well-established principle, as well as case law involving analogous evidentiary provisions in other jurisdictions, the court in Caira v. Offner, supra, 126 Cal.App.4th 12, 24 Cal.Rptr.3d 233 held the trial court’s ruling excluding evidence under sections 1152 or 1154 is properly reviewed for an abuse of discretion. (Cairo, at pp. 31-32, 24 Cal.Rptr.3d 233.)
Although we do not disagree with that conclusion when the issue involves evaluating particular facts and applying established law to those facts, to the extent the trial court’s decision depends on the proper construction of sections 1152 and 1154, as here, the issue is a question of law, which we review de novo. (People ex rel. Lockyer v. Shamrock Foods Co. (2000) 24 Cal.4th 415, 432, 101 Cal.Rptr.2d 200, 11 P.3d 956; California Veterinary Medical Assn. v. City of West Hollywood (2007) 152 Cal.App.4th 536, 546, 61 Cal.Rptr.3d 318; cf. Moving Pictures etc. Union v. Glasgow Theaters, Inc. (1970) 6 Cal.App.3d 395, 401, 86 Cal.Rptr. 33 [admission of evidence prohibited by § 1152 “is error”].)
About the Author
Attorney Steven Peck has been practicing law since 1981. A former successful business owner, Mr. Peck initially focused his legal career on business law. Within the first three years, after some colleagues and friend’s parents endured nursing home neglect and elder abuse, he continued his education to begin practicing elder law and nursing home abuse law.