Author Archives: Richard A. Cook
I never take on a new client without sharing the quote above with them. The most valuable component of any personal injury case is the client’s credibility… period, end of case. If you exaggerate or stretch your claim beyond the bounds of your evidence, then your client will lose credibility, devalue your client’s claim and lose their case.
The number one tactic most defense attorneys use to undermine a personal injury case, is to encourage the injured client to overstate or exaggerate their claim while under oath in a deposition or to omit their history of a past injury to the same portion of the body or to hide a prior collision or claim. The client thinks, “Why tell them, they may never find out.” However, they almost always do. The defense argues, “Why did your client do these things (they said they couldn’t do)? Simple… because they don’t have a legitimate claim.”
Honesty is not just the best moral policy, it is also the best economic policy when it comes to the value of a personal injury case.
So don’t forget the quote and don’t let your client forget it either.
1. Tendencies of your expert: If you can obtain and read past depositions of your
expert to see not only what type of questions are asked but how he reacts. Does he ramble or
argue? Does he fail to listen to the question or dodge it? Is he argumentative or polite and
professional? You may want to run through some questions, especially problems so your expert
is ready to address them. If the expert is new to the practice, I would video tape the questioning
so the expert can see how he reacts objectively evaluate his performance.
2. Do not hide bad evidence from your expert, deal with it. If you hide bad
evidence from your expert, you will expose your expert to potential embarrassment. He may
even be force to abandon your side of the case because he was not prepared for what was coming
and unwittingly made imprudent concessions earlier in the deposition.
3. What does the expert consider authoritative as a learned treatise? This will
be asked. How will he answer the question? If at all possible, avoid doing the deposition in the expert’s office. It will only provide bookshelves full of ideas for authoritative materials to ask
and cross examine your expert about at trial
4. Screen your expert. Make sure you have already screened your expert’s curriculum vita in
advance for any bluster or bull not supported by the facts. Hopefully, this was done before you ever hired your expert.
5. Obtain Historical Medical Records. The prior medical history of a Plaintiff can
seriously undermine a case’s value and the client’s credibility. It is important to obtain all significant prior medical history from a client. If you don’t, the defense attorney will. Without a full medical history, a client is prone to make misstatements and create fertile ground for purposes of impeachment at the time of trial. Likewise, expert witnesses will be unable to address and deal with any potential weaknesses you might have as a result of any pre-existing medical condition or prior injury. While it is tempting to limit your pretrial production of records to those postdating the injury, it is better to do the investigation yourself ahead of time.
6. Prepare a Medical Chronology – A detailed medical chronology prepared ahead
of their deposition, will give you a means to identify and refresh the expert’s memory regarding past illnesses and injuries, and avoid making misstatements at the time of the deposition, or worse, at the time of trial. In addition, by reviewing the past medical chronology with your expert, you can address responses to the resolution of prior symptoms and/or problems.
7. Prior Lawsuits and Claims – It is important to promptly identify any prior
litigation your expert may have been involved in as either a litigant or as a witness. The prior proceedings can create a ready resource of impeachment through the use of pleadings, discovery responses and depositions. Failure to identify such easily verifiable information can also make it appear as if your expert is a liar. The prior litigation also provides background information on your expert that could lead to surprises.
8. Compound Questions – Compound questions are questions, which incorporate two questions in one. They are very deceptive and dangerous because a yes or no answer can be interpreted as an affirmative response to the underlying predicate. For example, “Do you beat your wife only on Tuesdays and Thursdays?” is actually two questions in one. The first question is, “Do you beat your wife?” and if yes, is it only on Tuesdays and Thursdays? Make sure your expert can identify an undisclosed predicate to a question which makes it compound in case you fail to object.
9. Summary Questions – Another classic approach to the compound question is to
summarize an expert’s prior testimony, and then ask at the tail end a yes or no question. Experts often focus only on the yes or no question, and forget that by answering the question without objection or clarification they are affirming the entire scenario outlined in the question. While you, as an attorney, should object to such questions, it is important to educate the expert on these problems as well, in case you fall asleep at the switch.
10. Box Questions – Questions in Absolute Terms – Questions cast in absolute
terms can also be a problem. Opposing counsel wants to limit your expert’s basis for his opinions and show that he overlooked or ignored some important facts. If he is attempting to exhaust your
expert’s knowledge of the facts on a topic, your expert should indicate “that is all I can recall at
this time.” This leaves an opening to refresh your expert’s memory and supplement or correct the answer through the errata sheet. Whenever an attorney uses such terms as, “Do you always” or, “Have you never,” they are attempting to lock your expert in absolute terms. There is nothing wrong with being absolutely sure, you just want to make sure that that is, in fact, the case. If there are exceptions, then the expert needs to avoid answering such questions in the affirmative. On the other hand, defense attorneys will use such absolute terms as a means of unnerving an expert and backing them off of their testimony. The point is, make sure if you answer in absolute terms, that you’re absolutely correct.
11. Milk-Toast Answers – The flip side of this is to water down answers with
qualifiers such as, “I think,” “I believe,” or, “In my opinion,” when you actually know the facts. Make sure your expert avoids using such terminology. It is better to indicate that you don’t know or recall than to guess or speculate. Once again, the primary rule is to answer truthfully and accurately.
12. Do not exaggerate – Don’t take a good case, try to make it a great case, and turn
it into a bad case. Do not be an advocate. Be an expert.
13. Remember you are a professional. Don’t respond in kind to impolite or rude
comments by opposing counsel. The only thing a witness has absolute control over is their behavior and demeanor. By emphasizing this point with your expert, you can both empower and relax them. No matter how rude or aggressive the other attorney is, it’s important for the expert to remain calm and composed. By doing this, the deposition will typically be shorter. When an opposing attorney senses he has drawn blood, he will simply bore in with more of the same. An expert can tactically overcome this by simply remaining calm. Likewise, the expert needs to be cautioned to avoid any sarcasm or insincere solicitous comments.
14. Identify and explain what items which are privileged – Another classic
question to unnerve a witness t that attorneys will often use is, “Have you talked too anybody about this case?” Sometimes, a witness will think that they’ve done something wrong by discussing their testimony in advance. The expert should be put at ease that there is nothing wrong with preparing for their deposition or meeting with you in advance. In fact, most jurors expect attorneys to meet with their witnesses, in order to properly prepare for trial or a deposition. Discussions with counsel are privileged as work product because they are communication with counsel. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(4)(C). If the question is posed by opposing counsel and you fall asleep at the switch, you want to make sure that your expert seeks a clarification as to whether the attorney is, “Asking for information discussed with counsel.” If your expert has discussed the case with other persons, you want to identify this well in advance of the deposition. Some experts, especially teaching experts, will discuss pending cases during their lectures. I can recall one case where this occurred and the expert was impeached at trial with tape recordings of his lecture with devastating effect. Loose lips sink both ships and cases.
15. Review all evidentiary foundations – You should review the appropriate
foundational requirements for the admission of any records, tests, or other analysis which is not stipulated to by the opposing party. Remember under Rule of Evidence 703, your expert can
consider matters outside the evidentiary record at trial in reaching his opinion.
16. Standard of proof or level of confidence required – this distinction has
somewhat dissipated. However, a number of judges are still requiring use of the magic words.
Typically at the beginning it make sense to asked that you expert give his opinion in the case
based upon a reasonable degree of medical or scientific probability unless instructed otherwise.
Caution your expert to avoid using the phrase “possible” since it is legally meaningless.
17. Reliance on materials outside of the court record. The facts or data in the particular case upon which an expert bases an opinion or inference may be those perceived by or
made known to the expert at or before the hearing. Experts may testify to opinions based on inadmissible evidence, provided that it is of the type reasonably relied upon by experts in the
field. Federal Rule of Evidence 703. Typically, I would ask the expert ‘if in reaching his opinions and conclusions in this case, did he use only materials reasonably relied upon by persons in his field?
18. The Subpoena Duces Tecum Trap – Make sure any subpoena is dealt with well
in advance of the deposition. You should personally review with your expert all items sought
and insure nothing is “lost” or destroyed which is in existence at the time the subpoena is issued.
A privilege log should be prepared for any items withheld and a motion for protective order
sought if agreement cannot be reached on how to handle the subpoena. Blanket claims of privilege are not favored. The party seeking to avoid discovery has the burden of establishing the
essential elements of the privilege being invoked. United States v. Lawless, 709 F.2d 485, 487(7th Cir.1983). The claim of privilege must be made and sustained on a question-by-question
or document-by-document basis. Id., citing United States v. First State Bank, 691 F.2d 332, 335(7th Cir.1982); Matter of Walsh, 623 F.2d 489, 493 (7th Cir.1980), cert. denied, 449 U.S.
994, 101 S.Ct. 531, 66 L.Ed.2d 291. Spoliation of evidence by your expert in response to a subpoena can lead to sanctions, a contempt citation and an adverse instruction to the jury. Spesco, Inc. v. General Elec. Co., 719 F.2d 233, 239 (7th Cir. 1983); see also Adkins v. Mid- America Growers, Inc., 141 F.R.D. 466, 473 (N.D. Ill. 1992) (“In cases where evidence has been
intentionally destroyed, it may be presumed that the materials were relevant.”).
19. Give the shortest accurate answer… Remember a deposition is not a
conversation – The purpose of a discovery deposition is to learn as much as one can about the
opposing expert. When answering a question give the shortest accurate answer. Explain only
when asked. Do not ramble. Repeat after me: A deposition is not a conversation. A deposition
is not a conversation. A deposition is not a conversation!
Run through these points with your expert so he can avoids the “traps” of litigation and not end up stuck in the “sand.”
Preparation is your greatest tool to avoid problems caused by difficult or agressive
attorneys. Ultimately, once you are at the deposition there is little you can do without risking
sanctions. Harassing behavior. If an attorney engages in ongoing harassing behavior which
is truly beyond the pale, call the magistrate of court and have a discovery conference. However,
make sure it is truly exceptional.
As mentioned earlier, your best tool to control the deposition is to prepare your expert. If
truly extraordinary harassment or name calling occurs and persists even after you have addressed
it on the record, and the Court is not available to resolve your dispute, you can move to terminate
the deposition. Rule 30(d)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a litigant to suspend
a deposition at any point for the purpose of filing a motion to terminate or limit the deposition on the grounds that it is “being conducted in a manner that unreasonably annoys, embarrasses or oppresses the deponent or the litigant.” Obscenity or insults, persistent questioning that embarrasses a witness or concerns privileged matter are sufficient grounds for suspending or terminating a deposition. See Redwood v. Dobson, 476 F.3d 462 (7th Cir. 2007); Lewis v. United Air Lines Transp. Corp., 32 F. Supp. 21 (W.D. Pa. 1940); Broadbent v. Moore-McCormack Lines, 5 F.R.D. 220 (E.D. Pa. 1946); Shapiro v. Freeman, 38 F.R.D. 308 (S.D.N.Y. 1965).
If a suspension is sought, the deposition remains postponed until such time as the court issues an
order. The loser is subject to fees and sanctions under Rule 37(a)(5). Smith v. Logansport Community Schools Corp., 139 F.R.D. 637 (N.D. Ind. 1991).
1. Review all evidentiary foundations. You should review the appropriate
foundational requirements for the admission of any records, tests, or other analysis which is not
stipulated to by the opposing party. Remember under Rule of Evidence 703, your expert can
consider matters outside the evidentiary record at trial in reaching his opinion.
2. Standard of proof or level of confidence required. This distinction has
somewhat dissipated. However, a number of judges still require the use of the “magic words.”
Typically, at the beginning, it makes sense to ask that your expert give his opinion in the case
based upon a reasonable degree of medical or scientific probability unless instructed otherwise.
Caution your expert to avoid using the phrase “possible” since it is legally meaningless.
3. Reliance on materials outside of the court record. The facts or data in the
particular case upon which an expert bases an opinion or inference may be those perceived by or
made known to the expert at or before the hearing. Experts may testify to opinions based on
inadmissible evidence, provided that it is of the type reasonably relied upon by experts in the
field. Federal Rule of Evidence 703. Typically, I would ask the expert ‘If in reaching his opinions and conclusions in this case, did he use only materials reasonably relied upon by persons in his field?
4. Role as an educator/not an advocate. KISS—Keep it simple, stupid! Avoid
technical terms. Use models or diagrams whenever possible. Above all, make it interesting! The expert should be enlightening, not boring! In this regard, less is more. Get to the point early. The expert needs to be an educator, not an advocate. That’s your job.
5. Professional demeanor. Make sure your expert has the knowledge and control
to avoiding taking the bait! No matter how the opposing attorney acts, your expert must stay
polite and professional. Avoid sarcasm or insults. Credibility will ultimately be lost.
6. Review of demonstrative evidence. If you are going to use charts, models or
diagrams, make sure they are properly disclosed in advance, and if possible included with your
expert’s report. Likewise, summaries under Rule 1006 need to be produced in advance.
7. In court demonstrations or “experiments”. Make sure you practice them and
they will definitely work. You don’t want to hear, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
8. Review prior materials for any mistakes or errors. Look one last time for
problems. Deal with any mistakes or error on direct, and deal with any shortcomings honestly.
You will gain credibility and avoid the sting of these topics on cross-examination.
9. Absent Subpoena Duces Tecum, limit materials brought to court. Bring only
those items which have previously been produced. Be ready to answer questions regarding
compensation paid, and hours of work spent. Remind your expert that he is paid for his time, not
10. Contrast and compare expert’s qualifications with those of any opposing
expert. Show what he brings to the table that the other expert is missing, whether it is in the way
of experience, time spent, or knowledge. Show the jury why your expert is the better guide.
11. Cover adequacy of facts included in any hypothetical questions. If you plan
or may ask a hypothetical question, make sure you review the relevant factors in advance of trial
with your expert so you are both on the same page. Write out your question so you are
consistent in the way you ask it.
12. Likely tactics of opposing counsel. Know your opponent. In the seminal book, “
The Art of War” Sun Tzu advises:
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the
result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
Ask around and learn your opponent as well as yourself and your own case, and you, too, will
have nothing to fear.
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.”
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
(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
(iii) Any exhibits that will be used to summarize or support
(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
(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
(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
(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.
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
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
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:
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
(a) Review and verify Curriculum Vitae. You can devastate an expert if he
lies on his CV. I have done this before with experts who had a long history of testifying.
Surprisingly, even though they had been around for years as experts no one had ever
checked out their background to see if they were legitimate. In one instance I found that
the expert not only wasn’t a professional engineer, but he had never even completed his
degree in engineering! At that time, I used a private investigator to dig up this information. Today you check such things yourself online.
(b) Internet search of expert. Do Google, Bing, Google Scholar, Yahoo
searches of your expert using the following format: “ EXPERT NAME” AND “keywords”. I use key words and phrases such as “ testimony”, “ppt”, “lawsuit”, “pdf”, “
lawsuit”, “deposition”, “You Tube”, “video”, “MIL”, “motion in limine”, “motion to exclude”, “daubert”, “frye”, “conference presentation”, “author”, “dissertation”, “thesis”,
“capstone”, “expert witness” etc. You can also do a full legal name search using the case
law filter to see if you can find any lawsuits.
(c) Expert databanks. Organizations, attorney associations AAJ, State Trial
Lawyers Association, professional list serves, TrialSmith, Westlaw, Lexus-Nexus, often
provide either searchable databases or bulletin boards where information can be electronically posted for inquiry and response. Some can be used at no cost, while others
charge a fee or subscription for searches.
(d) Search of reported cases. I would examine both civil and criminal court
dockets, PACER, Westlaw, Lexus-Nexus, electronic court records. Your expert may have
testified or could have been excluded as a witness. Does he have convictions? Does he
have legal or financial problems?
(e) Obtain and check references. Your check should include calls to attorneys listed by your expert as well as attorneys discovered in published cases.
(f) Verify licensing. Is your expert really licensed or certified? Check– it
should be free. Has he had any disciplinary actions taken against his professional licensing? How will you handle this at trial?
(g) Review website and advertising of expert. What does he say? Are
articles attached or linked to the website? Check out his CV and terms of engagement as
(h) Review social media of expert. Does the expert have a business or
personal page on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. What articles, videos, or
comments has he posted?
(i) Eyeball test. What kind of appearance does the expert make? Is he goofy
looking? Is he sloppy or slovenly in his appearance? Is he well spoken? Does he make
good eye-contact? Does he fit the part? Does he have charisma or personality? Would
you want him as your teacher? That is what he will be doing for you: teaching the jury
about your case.
(j) Excluded. Has your expert ever been excluded or admitted to testify over the
objection of opposing counsel? He should know this answer and be able to give you
past hearing transcripts, legal briefs and rulings.
You will be surprised by how much exaggeration and unsubstantiated bragging is contained in an expert’s CV. Find your expert’s problems before you spend your money and risk your case by placing it in the hands of the wrong “expert.”
1. Qualifications. You need to know precisely what you are using your expert for,
and then determine if the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help
the trier-of-fact to understand the evidence or to determine a particular fact in issue under Rule
702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. To do this, you need to look at your expert’s qualifications
in each of the following areas:
(e) Prior Cases
(f) Certifications/Professional Memberships
Does each of these areas satisfy the evidentiary requirements under the rules of evidence? Look
for prior cases in your jurisdiction if you think there is a question. For example, a psychologist
or chiropractor may not be able to establish medical causation as this is outside of their area of
expertise. Check your local jurisdiction’s law. You may need a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine
or a Doctor of Psychiatry instead.
2. Reliability & Reliance. Others will be discussing in greater depth the issues of
admissibility of experts; however, this is something that needs to be addressed before you
commit your money to any expert. Expert scientific testimony is required to establish and
explain the complex causal relationship between an event and the resulting injury or damage. It is also required for matters requiring special expertise in areas such as medicine, engineering, accounting, psychology, economics, statistics, forensic sciences (DNA analysis, handwriting analysis, fingerprinting, tool mark examinations, ballistics, entomology, pathology, etc.).
In evaluating the admissibility of such evidence, the trial court must make some
preliminary determinations when called up by the parties to do so, which are controlled by the rules of evidence. This is the minimum threshold which must be met before the trial court will
allow the jury to consider the evidence. I recommend that you know the law of your jurisdiction and preferences of your trial court:
(a) Frey Test v. Daubert Analysis. In federal court, the Daubert test is
utilized in evaluating the admissibility of evidence. See Daubert v. Merrell Dow
Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993). The Daubert
court specified a non-exhaustive list of factors that may be relevant in assessing the
reliability of scientific evidence, including:
1. Whether the theory or technique can be and has been tested?
2. Whether the theory has been subjected to peer review and publication?
3. Whether there is a known or potential error rate? and
4. Whether the theory has been generally accepted within the relevant field of
Daubert, 509 U.S. at 593–94, 113 S.Ct. 2786; Kubsch v. State, 784 N.E.2d 905, 921 (Ind. 2003). Federal case law interpreting the Federal Rules of Evidence is not binding upon thedetermination of state evidentiary law. Regarding Daubert, the concerns driving coincide with the requirement of Indiana Rule of Evidence 702(b) that the trial court be satisfied of the reliability of the scientific principles involved. However, while Daubert may be instructive and helpful, it is not controlling. State Auto. Ins. Co. v. DMY Realty Co., LLP, 977 N.E.2d 411 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012) (Daubert factors may be helpful in determining whether scientific principles are reliable, but Indiana has not mandated its application).
In order for a witness to qualify as an expert:
1. The subject matter [must be] distinctly related to some scientific field, business
or profession beyond the knowledge of the average lay person; and
2. The witness [must be] shown to have sufficient skill, knowledge or experience
in that area so that the opinion will aid the trier-of-fact.
Bacher v. State, 686 N.E.2d 791, 800 (Ind. 1997). The proponent of expert testimony bears the
burden of establishing the foundation and reliability of the scientific principles and tests upon
which the expert’s testimony is based. McGrew v. State, 682 N.E.2d 1289, 1290 (Ind. 1997).
Once the admissibility of the expert’s opinion is established under Rule 702, “then the accuracy, consistency, and credibility of the expert’s opinions may properly be left to vigorous cross-
examination, presentation of contrary evidence, argument of counsel, and resolution by the trier-of-
fact.” Bennett v. Richmond, 960 N.E.2d 782, 786–87 (Ind. 2012) (quotation omitted).
In determining whether expert testimony is reliable, the trial court acts as a “gatekeeper” to ensure that the expert’s testimony rests on a sufficiently reliable foundation and is relevant to the
issue at hand so that it will assist the trier-of-fact. Wallace v. Meadow Acres Manufactured Hous., Inc., 730 N.E.2d 809, 812 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000), trans. denied. “When faced with a proffer of expert
scientific testimony, the court must make a preliminary assessment of whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is scientifically valid and whether that reasoning or methodology properly can be applied to the facts in issue.” Hannan v. Pest Control Servs., 734 N.E.2d 674, 679 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000), trans. denied.
Here in Indiana for example, there is no specific test or set of factors which must be considered in order to satisfy Evidence Rule 702(b), but some relevant considerations include whether the theory or technique can be empirically tested, whether it has been subjected to peer review and publication, and whether it has gained widespread acceptance. Id. at 679–80.
Ultimately, deciding whether expert testimony is admissible is a matter within the discretion of the trial court. Wallace, 730 N.E.2d at 812. A trial court’s decision to exclude evidence will be
reversed only if that decision is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances before the Court, or the reasonable, probable and actual deductions to be drawn from the evidence. Id. There is a presumption that the trial court’s decision is correct, and the burden is on the party challenging the decision to persuade the appellate court that the trial court abused its
discretion. Bennett, 960 N.E.2d at 786. Stated another way, a trial court’s determination regarding the admissibility of expert testimony under Rule 702 is discretionary and will be reversed only for abuse of that discretion.
See Bennett , 960 N.E. at 786-787 (held psychologist was qualified to opine that rear-end automobile accident caused motorist to suffer traumatic brain injury); TRW Vehicle Safety Sys., Inc. v. Moore, 936 N.E.2d 201, 216 (Ind. 2010). The Indiana Supreme Court has instructed trial
courts to consider the general principles and general methodology underlying the reliability of an expert’s testimony, leaving the accuracy, consistency, and credibility of the testimony to be determined by the trier-of-fact after testimony has been subjected to the adversarial process at trial. Sears Roebuck & Co. v. Manuilov, 742 N.E.2d 453, 461 (Ind. 2000). By requiring trial courts to be satisfied that expert opinions will assist the fact-finder and that the underlying scientific principles are reliable, Rule 702 guides the admission of expert scientific testimony. Id.
In other words, the general principles and general methodologies underlying the expert’s testimony are to be examined by the trial court, but not every aspect of the expert’s testimony as might occur in federal court under Daubert.
In evaluating the admissibility of evidence under Rule 702, a distinction is sometimes made between expertise that is described as “scientific” as opposed to “technical” in nature. For example, other jurisdictions have analyzed firearms tool mark evidence as something other than
“scientific.” See United States v. Willock, 696 F.Supp.2d 536, 571 (D.Md.2010) (“While … it may be debatable whether [firearms tool mark identification evidence] is ‘science,’ it clearly is
technical or specialized, and therefore within the scope of [Federal Evidence] Rule 702.”).United States v. Glynn, 578 F.Supp.2d 567, 571 (S.D.N.Y.2008) (recognizing Kumho Tire’s applicability to firearm identification evidence); United States v. Monteiro, 407 F.Supp.2d 351, 372 (D.Mass.2006) (“Based on the factors outlined in Daubert and Kumho Tire, the Court concludes that the methodology of firearms identification is sufficiently reliable.”); United States v. Green, 405 F.Supp.2d 104, 118 (D.Mass.2005) (observing that firearms identification is “not traditional science” and that Kumho Tire extends the Daubert standard to the case). Firearm identification evidence straddles the line between testimony based on science and experience. Monteiro, 407 F.Supp.2d at 365.
Firearms tool mark comparison is similar to other observational comparisons of physical characteristics which have been found to be “on the margins of testimony governed by Rule of Evidence 702(b) as expert scientific testimony.” West v. State, 755 N.E.2d 173, 181 (Ind. 2001)(assessing shoeprint comparison and identification). See also Carter, 766 N.E.2d at 381 (describing bite mark identification as “ ‘simply a matter of comparison of items of physical evidence to determine if they are reciprocal’ ”) (quoting Niehaus v. State, 265 Ind. 655, 359 N.E.2d 513, 516 (1977)); McGrew, supra, 682 N.E.2d at 1292 (citing with approval the trial court’s evaluation of hair comparison analysis as “not the traditional scientific evaluation” but
rather “simply a person’s observations under a microscope”).
In order to successfully get expert testimony into evidence, the following foundational
prerequisites must be satisfied:
1. The opinion offered must be one that in fact requires expertise to render it,
2. The witness must be qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience,
training, or education to render such an opinion,
3. The expert testimony must help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or
determine a fact in issue, and
4. The expert testimony must rest upon reliable scientific principles.
In terms of the expert’s qualifications, you need to cover:
1. His education and training that qualifies him to act as an expert,
2. Certifications and testing that he has undergone in his chosen field of expertise,
3. Work experience relevant to his analysis and opinions, and
4. Competence to perform any tests or analysis used.
In establishing the reliability of the underlying scientific principles, you should look firstfor other court decisions which have accepted the methodology as reliable. If there are none, then you will probably need to turn to your own expert and present the court with established texts, journal articles, or other accepted learned treatises in the area in order to persuade the court of its
(b) Expert’s experience in similar cases. As mentioned earlier, your expert
may have been put through his paces in earlier cases dealing with the same or similar
topic. Experts often times retain copies of these pleadings to ensure that counsel in later
cases is able to effectively establish the admissibility of their testimony and the reliability
of their analysis. So, check with your expert regarding his past experience.
Objections should be kept to a minimum. The Rules contemplate that
objections should be concise and afford the examiner the opportunity to cure the objection. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 30(c)(2) (noting that “objection[s] must be stated concisely”); id., Advisory
Committee Notes (1993 Amendments) (noting that “[d]epositions frequently have been unduly prolonged . . . By lengthy objections and colloquy” and that objections “ordinarily should be limited to those . . . grounds that might be immediately obviated, removed, or cured, such as to
the form of a question”). Rule 30(c)(2) provides:
Objections. An objection at the time of the examination—whether
to evidence, to a party’s conduct, to the officer’s qualifications, to the manner of taking the deposition, or to any other aspect of the deposition—must be noted on the record, but the examination still proceeds; the testimony is taken subject to any objection. An objection must be stated concisely in a nonargumentative and nonsuggestive manner. A person may instruct a deponent not to answer only when necessary to preserve a privilege, to enforce a limitation ordered by the court, or to present a motion under Rule 30(d)(3).
The Notes to the Advisory Committee for the Amendments of 1993 state that “[w]hile objections
may, under the revised rule, be made during a deposition, they ordinarily should be limited to
those that under Rule 32(d)(3) might be waived if not made at that time, i.e., objections on
grounds that might be immediately obviated, removed, or cured, such as to the form of a question or the responsiveness of an answer.” Rule 32(d)(3)(A) & (B) state specifically which objections must be made or waived:
(A) Objection to Competence, Relevance, or Materiality. An
objection to a deponent’s competence—or to the competence, relevance, or materiality of testimony—is not waived by a failure to make the objection before or during the deposition, unless the ground for it might have been corrected at that time.
(B) Objection to an Error or Irregularity. An objection to an error
or irregularity at an oral examination is waived if:
(i) it relates to the manner of taking the deposition, the form of a
question or answer, the oath or affirmation, a party’s conduct, or other matters that might have been corrected at that time; and
(ii) it is not timely made during the deposition. [Emphasis Added].
The Rules should be abided by during the course of the deposition.
Form objections. While unspecified “form” objections are certainly concise, they
do nothing to alert the examiner to a question’s alleged defect. Because they lack specificity, “
form” objections do not allow the examiner to immediately cure the objection.
Permissible objections. If an objection could have been obviated at the time of
the deposition and it is not made, it is deemed waived. The only objection you should make are “insufficient foundation”, “compound”, “argumentative”, “asked and answered,” and “work
product privilege” or “attorney client privilege.” All other objections are available and can be
raised at a later time.
Below is a list of potentially impermissible objections (check your jurisdiction):
1. Speaking Objections. Speaking objections are not allowed and can draw
sanctions. Your objection needs to be short and concise.
2. No right to consultation. A witness has no constitutional right to consultation
while testifying. Perry v Leake, 488 US 272 (1989).
3. Recesses. It has been held a deponent has no right to consultation during
depositions and during recesses. Hall v Clifton Precision, 150 F.D.R. 525 (E.D. Penn. 1993).
4. Communications during recesses. There is no attorney client or work product
privilege for discussion between attorney and deponent during recesses. You can ask what they
talked about. Id.
5. Questions by Defending Counsel. An attorney cannot state on the record their
interpretation of a question asked. Hall, supra.
6. If you know or if you understand is a speaking objection (coaching). Suggestions such as
“if you know” or “if you understand” are raw unmitigated coaching and never appropriate.
Serrano v Cincinnati Ins. Co., 2012 WL 20871 *4. (Kansas)
7. Calls for speculation. Objections to “speculation” are not form. It’s also
coaching. Serrano, supra.
8. Vague Objection. Saying a question is “vague” is improper speaking objection.
Serrano, supra. Likewise, a lawyer cannot object saying he/she didn’t understand the question.
9. Multiple objections. Rambo-like multiple objections prohibited. In Re
Stratosphere, 182 F.R.D. 614 (D. Nev. 1998).
10. Excessive number of objections. Excessive number of objections is
sanctionable. Fed. R. Civ. P. 30(d), Committee Notes 1993.