Under California law, admissions in response to Requests for Admission (“RFA”) are binding on the admitting party at trial. [CCP §2033.410.] But, are denials of RFAs also admissible at trial? In Gonsalves v. Li, California’s appellate court for the first time said no.
Plaintiff Ran Li crashed a BMW during a test drive with Kenneth Gonsalves, a salesperson for BMW, who rode in the passenger seat. Gonsalves sued because he sustained significant back injuries.
During trial, counsel for Gonsalves used Li’s denials of RFAs during discovery to show that Li continued to deny that he was the cause of the accident. A jury subsequently awarded Gonsalves damages. Li appealed on the basis that the trial court erred in allowing Gonsalves’s counsel to examine Li about his denials of RFAs and admitting those denials as evidence at trial, over the objection of Li’s counsel.
The appellate court held that denials of RFAs are not admissible evidence at trial in an ordinary case and, thus, the trial court erred in admitting those responses. This holding is consistent with the holdings of other Courts that have ruled on this issue, (i.e., Massachusetts, Florida, Missouri, Texas).
Of note, Gonsalves’s counsel was not using the denials of RFAs to allege some inconsistency between the prior discovery responses and Li’s trial testimony. Rather, Gonsalves’s counsel argued to the jury that they should draw adverse inferences from the fact that Li continued to deny the RFAs in spite of evidence to the contrary.
As a practice point, if Gonsalves’s counsel believed that Li’s denials of the RFAs were improper, California provides monetary sanctions (i.e., reasonable expenses including attorney’s fees) when a party unreasonably fails to admit a matter in response to RFAs, which forces the requesting party to prove the truth of that request. [CCP §2033.420(a).] California law does not permit those denials to be used against a witness at trial.