Request for Admissions Are a Powerful Tool Which Should Not Be Taken Lightly

I found the following case very interesting because based on my limited experience, litigators tend to take a deny everything and admit nothing approach. But as the litigators here found out, this can be a dangerous game.

This is a quick summary based on the California Court of Appeals decision in TIMOTHY GRACE et al. vs. LEVIK MANSOURIAN et al. which was published on September 15, 2015. You can find the case here.

Defendants were served with requests for admissions seeking admissions on negligence, causation, and damages. Plaintiffs asked defendants to admit defendant failed to stop at the red light and that the failure was negligent, the actual and legal cause of the accident, etc.

Their response was to deny almost every request for admission. On the eve of trial, certain requests were admitted to through stipulation. Plaintiffs won the trial and filed a motion seeking to recover costs of proof under Code of Civil Procedure section 2033.420. The Court found defendants liable, in part, and awarded attorney fees and costs for the portion of the trial that could be earmarked towards proving certain requests for admissions that were denied by defendants.

It reasoned as follows. First, it found that the purpose of requests for admissions is

“… primarily aimed at setting at rest a triable issue so that it will not have to be tried. . . . For this reason, the fact that the request is for the admission of a controversial matter, or one involving complex facts, or calls for an opinion, is of no moment. If the litigant is able to make the admission, the time for making it is during discovery procedures, and not at the trial.”

It also held that,

“[S]ince requests for admissions are not limited to matters within personal knowledge of the responding party, that party has a duty to make a reasonable investigation of the facts before answering items which do not fall within his personal knowledge.”

So it concluded that

“When a party propounds requests for admission of the truth of certain facts and the responding party denies the requests, if the propounding party proves the truth of those facts at trial, he or she may seek an award of the reasonable costs and attorney fees incurred in proving those facts. (§ 2033.420, subd. (a).) The court is required to award those costs and fees unless it finds the party who denied the requests “had reasonable ground to believe [he or she] would prevail on the matter” or “[t]here was other good reason for the failure to admit.”

Based on the above, you would think that many of the games litigators play are prevented by this code sections; however, the Court also found that those amounts cannot be awarded if the parties stipulated to facts, even if the responding party had previously denied them.