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Sabel v. Mead Johnson & Co

Citation. Sabel v. Mead Johnson & Co., 737 F. Supp. 135, 31 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. (Callaghan) 67 (D. Mass. May 14, 1990)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The plaintiff, Sabel (“plaintiff”), sued the defendant, Mead Johnson & Co. pharmaceutical company (“defendant”), after the antidepressant drug Desyrel allegedly caused a priapism, requiring surgery and leaving him impotent.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Special care must be taken in applying exceptions to the hearsay rule, especially when the risk of unfair prejudice substantially outweighs the relevance of the evidence. Moreover, in situations where an agency exception is to be used, a careful analysis of the alleged relationship between the parties must be performed.


The defendant corporation manufactured the antidepressant drug, Desyrel. After ingesting the drug, plaintiff experienced a priapism, a long, painful erection. This required surgery, and plaintiff was made impotent as a result of the surgery. He sued the pharmaceutical company as a result, and the instant proceedings involve three pieces of evidence in dispute.


Whether the tape of a meeting sponsored by the defendant was admissible?
Whether a letter written to the defendant by the Director of the Food and Drug Administration (“F.D.A.”) was admissible?

Whether notes made by an FDA employee of a telephone conversation with an employee of the defendant were admissible?


No. With the exception of statements made by full time employees of the defendant, statements on the tape constituted inadmissible hearsay.
Yes. The letter qualified as a public record pursuant the public record exception to the hearsay rule under Federal Rule of Evidence (“F.R.E”), Rule 803(8)(c). The letter was a report consisting of findings that were the result of an investigation held pursuant to authority granted by law, and it was trustworthy, thus satisfying the two prong test for evidence to be admitted as a public record.

No. The notes were inadmissible hearsay. It is specifically in cases where accounts differ as to the substance of a hearsay statement that special care must be taken in applying exceptions. None apply in this case.


The plaintiff sought to have the information in the tape admitted under the statement against interest exception to hearsay, F.R.E. Rule 801(d)(2). This was not appropriate, however, because the record was inadequate in terms of establishing an agency relationship between the defendant and the outside invitees. Nor was it appropriate to admit the tape for non hearsay purposes, as the risk of unfair prejudice substantially outweighed the possible relevance, pursuant to F.R.E. Rule 403.

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