Monthly Archives: February 2017

Polling a Jury: How to Keep Yourself Out of La La Land…

So the clerk finishes reading the jury’s verdict and your client has just lost.  What do you do? Why read the jury rules:

RULE 30. JUDGE TO READ THE VERDICT

When the jury has agreed upon its verdict, the foreperson shall sign the appropriate verdict form. When returned into court, the judge shall read the verdict. The court or either party may poll the jury. If a juror dissents from the verdict, the jury shall again be sent out to deliberate.

 I always poll a jury just in case.  After seeking permission of the court, I run down the line and separately ask each juror if this is their verdict. 

It’s painful to hear the bad news again, but you owe it to your client and your case to be sure. As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over, until it’s over.”

Hey, just because the Oscars never announced the wrong winner in 88 years doesn’t mean it cannot happen.  If you fail to poll the jury, you could end up in “La La Land” instead of basking in the “Moonlight.”

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Expert Witness Reports – Avoiding Litigation Sand Traps – What They Should and Should Not Include

You have hired an expert and are in need of a report or findings for you expert disclosures. What do you do?  Here is a short checklist of things to consider:

 
1. Compliance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26. This probably is a good
place to start. The Rule provides in pertinent part as follows for witnesses hired in anticipation
of litigation:

(2) Disclosure of Expert Testimony.

(A) In General. In addition to the disclosures required by Rule

26(a)(1), a party must disclose to the other parties the identity of

any witness it may use at trial to present evidence under Federal

Rule of Evidence 702, 703, or 705.

Regarding reports, the Rule goes on to state:

(B) Witnesses Who Must Provide a Written Report.

Unless otherwise stipulated or ordered by the court, this disclosure
must be accompanied by a written report—prepared and signed by
the witness—if the witness is one retained or specially employed to
provide expert testimony in the case or one whose duties as the party’s employee regularly involves giving expert testimony.  

The report must contain:

(i) A complete statement of all opinions the witness will
express and the basis and reasons for them;  

ii) The facts or data considered by the witness in forming
them;

(iii) Any exhibits that will be used to summarize or support
them;

(iv) The witness’s qualifications, including a list of all
publications authored in the previous 10 years;  

(v) A list of all other cases in which, during the previous 4
years, the witness testified as an expert at trial or by
deposition; and  

(vi) A statement of the compensation to be paid for the study
and testimony in the case.

As to those witnesses who are typically skilled witnesses or fact witnesses with specialized or
technical knowledge, it states:

(C) Witnesses Who Do Not Provide a Written Report. Unless
otherwise stipulated or ordered by the court, if the witness is not
required to provide a written report, this disclosure must state:  

(i) The subject matter on which the witness is expected to
present evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 702, 703, or
705; and  

(ii) A summary of the facts and opinions to which the witness
is expected to testify.  

The timing of these disclosures is typically outlined in the Case Management Plan as noted in the
Rule:

(D) Time to Disclose Expert Testimony. A party must make these
disclosures at the times and in the sequence that the court orders.  Absent a stipulation or a court order, the disclosures must be made: 

(i) At least 90 days before the date set for trial or for the case
to be ready for trial; or  

(ii) If the evidence is intended solely to contradict or rebut
evidence on the same subject matter identified by another
party under Rule 26(a)(2)(B) or (C), within 30 days after the other  party’s disclosure.  

(E) Supplementing the Disclosure. The parties must supplement
these disclosures when required under Rule 26(e).  

Do not forget the obligation to seasonably supplement your expert responses!
This obligation is continuing and requires no additional request by the opposing party.

 2. Narrative of facts versus summary of materials reviewed.
Narrative formats are time consuming and subject your expert to attack if he misstates or
misinterprets a record. It also poses problems when there are conflicts in the evidentiary record
that have to be resolved by the jury. Providing a factual summary does require your expert to
review and analyze the record and shows that he has considered all relevant evidence. This
process also better prepares the expert to testify and draft reports may expose gaps in your
expert’s knowledge before final conclusions are reached. However, ultimately the documents are
the best evidence, and listing the items is both cheaper and avoids the pitfalls associated with
summarizing voluminous records.

3. Oral reports versus written reports. Early reports should probably be made
verbally. A summary of findings can be made by counsel in his notes which is protected under
the work product privilege. Once the record matures and the facts are clear, reports should be
considered depending on the requirements of your jurisdiction.

4. The problem with draft reports. Such reports only pose a problem if
discoverable. In federal court only the final draft is discoverable. Check your state law on this
topic to see if it differs. 

5. Communications with expert and the work product privilege.
Such communications only pose a problem if discoverable. In federal court only correspondence
containing assumptions of fact or which outline the factual basis for the expert’s opinion are
discoverable. Check your state law on this topic to see if it differs. 

Working with your expert on providing a report that is accurate, complient, clear and concise is critical.  This checklist should help.

Top Mistakes in Choosing Experts

Here they are…  
1. Hiring an expert too late. Experts can be helpful and sometimes essential in
properly investigating and evaluating a case. They can provide guidance in drafting discovery  requests and determining whether information has been overlooked, withheld or lost. They are  also invaluable in assisting in deposition preparation and questioning of the opposing expert.  

2. Being penny-wise and pound-foolish. Do not save pennies and shortcut what
needs to be done at the cost of your case! Go through the cost and benefits of what needs to been
done early on and decide whether it makes sense to pursue your case through trial. For example,
product liability cases and medical malpractice cases are very expensive to litigate. By getting  an expert involved early on, you can assess whether the case merits the time and money required
to be successful. If you defer expert involvement, you may well incur expenses and invest time  that was better spent on another case.  

 
3. Obtaining the wrong type of expert. Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight! Make  sure you understand the science and technical issues well enough to properly select and screen  your expert.  

 
4. Hiring an inexperienced expert. Experience in the courtroom matters. It holds  true for attorneys and experts alike. Get an expert who “has been there and done that.” This is  not the place to cut costs!  

5. Failing to check an expert’s background. You know your opponent will do so,
so why wouldn’t you check your expert’s background? It’s cheaper to check out your expert
than to have to pay for two experts or lose your case because of problems which could have been
avoided.  

6. Buying a Volkswagen when you need a Mercedes. Get the person who fits the
job, not just your budget! As a Plaintiff’s attorney you will lose your case, disappoint a client
and cost yourself money which you can never recover. As a defense attorney, you risk losing a  case and a book of business. If the insurer does want to do it right, then they better be ready to  pay, or overpay the claim.  

7. Forgetting that “Garbage in equals garbage out”. You must provide your
expert with solid evidentiary material or rock solid assumptions if he is opining on ahypotheticalquestion. If your incoming information is not reliable or ascertainable, you are lost from the
start.

8. Failing to educate yourself. You cannot hire the right expert if you don’t
understand the area of expertise involved. One excellent source to check is the Reference  

Manual on Scientific Evidence 3rd Edition published by the Federal Judicial Center, which
covers all of the common areas of forensic and scientific analysis that usually arise in civil or
criminal litigation. Here is the link:  

http://www.fjc.gov/public/pdf.nsf/lookup/SciMan3D01.pdf/$file/SciMan3D01.pdf

9. Underestimating the value of a good communicator. First and foremost, your
expert must be a good communicator and educator. No one will care how smart he is unless they
can understand and connect with him as a person. He has to be interesting and make the jury
want to lean forward and learn more – not take a nap! As Theodore Roosevelt quipped, “No one
cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

 

10. Lacking clarity on the issue in dispute and the theme of your case. What is your case’s theme? How does your expert move your case forward? Can you phrase the
technical issues so they meld with your broader themes in the case? Don’t forget the forest for
the trees.  

 

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