Category Archives: Rule 26

Readying Your Experts for Traps and Tough Questions


Depositions are dangerous time for your expert.  Dangerous traps lies just around the corner. You cannot relax.  Here are some thoughts on this important topic.

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.”

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.

Expert Witness Retainer Agreements – Striking the Right Deal.

Here are points to consider:

1. Cannot be a contingent fee arrangement. This is unethical and would be
disastrous regardless… enough said.

2. Cost of initial consultation. This should be free or nominal, but make sure this
is clear.

3. Definition of scope of work. This should be set out in the initial engagement
letter in a straightforward, succinct manner.

 
4. Determining whether the case will be billed hourly or in stages. This should
be discussed at the front. Are you doing it by the hour or by the job to be performed? By the job
avoids runaway expenses, but can lead to experts cutting short the work that needs to be done.
5. Setting a budget. This avoids surprises for both sides and eliminates the stress of
the unknown.  

6. Regularity of billing statements. Same as above. It eliminates stresses and
surprise by not including the expert’s bill in your final statement of charges or in the
reconciliation to your client.  

7. Estimate of costs associated with forensic testing and/or scene work. Such
work can involve outside contractors or specialists. You want to budget these out as well.

8. Cost benefit analysis of economy versus completeness. If you cannot afford to
do everything necessary, cover it with your client first! Explain that the costs ultimately are
either paid directly or indirectly. Some clients will raise hell after you settle their case even  though you may have fronted the expenses and resolved the case very favorably. Keep your  client informed of the cost in advance of incurring it.  

9. Cost associated with satisfying federal court or state court disclosure
requirements. What costs in your jurisdiction are to be borne by the party, versus the opponent?
Initial disclosures or answers to interrogatories are usually the financial responsibility of the  party who hired the expert.  

10. Cost associated with responding to discovery requests. Additional requests for
information or discovery may not be had for free. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
26(4)(E):  

Unless manifest injustice would result, the court must require that the party
seeking discovery:  

(i) pay the expert a reasonable fee for time spent in responding to discovery under
Rule 26(b)(4)(A) or (D); and  (ii) for discovery under (D), also pay the other party a fair portion of the fees and  expenses it reasonably incurred in obtaining the expert’s facts and opinions. 

 If you are in state court, check your jurisdiction’s law and make sure your expert is paid
in advance of doing the work.  

I hope you strike the right deal.

Discovery, Privacy, Personal Freedom and Social Media

I don’t see myself as a hero because what I’m doing is self-interested: I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity. 

Edward Snowden

There is an assault on our privacy.  We need look no further than headlines involving Russian hacking of our government and political institutions such as story reported by The NY Times today. The assault on our client’s privacy is also underway as part of the civil discovery process.  Attorneys now seek to rummage through a client’s social media accounts and demand usernames and passwords to accomplish this invasion of privacy without any factual basis or good cause.

Fishing expeditions are not allowed. Here is the objection I use:

Objection, this request is overly broad and unduly burdensome. See Ind. T.R. 26(B)(1). Further, this request is non-specific and calls for a general fishing expedition which is prohibited under Indiana law in violation of the reasonable particularity requirement of Ind. T.R. 34(B). See Canfield v. Sandock, 563 N.E.2d 526 at 529-531(Ind. 1991). The simple fact that a claimant has had social communications is not necessarily probative of the issues in this case.  See Rozell v Ross-Holst,2006 WL 163143 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 20, 2006).  There is no general right to have access to an entire Facebook account and such a request is no different than requesting the right to search through a party’s entire house, office, or wherever making the request a “fishing expedition”.  See also, McCann v. Harleysville Ins. Co. of New York , 78 A.D.2d 1524 (N.Y. A.D. 2010)(Defendant “failed to establish a factual predicate and essentially sought permission to conduct a fishing expedition into plaintiff’s Facebook account based on the mere hope of finding relevant evidence which is not allowed); Tompkins v. Detroit Metro. Airport, No. 10-10413, (E.D. Mich. Jan. 18, 2012)(Defendant does not have a generalized right to rummage at will through information that Plaintiff has limited from public view and engage in the proverbial fishing expedition, in the hope of finding something on a Facebook account.).

Social media may be discoverable “specifically “, but certainly should not be invaded “generally”. Privacy matters to us all and must be honored even in this day of pervasive electronic communications and connections.

The Case Against Experts in the Courtroom

20120227-001826.jpg“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Albert Einstein

I have always thought it is unclear whether Indiana Rule of Evidence (IRE) 615 applies to depositions. IRE 101(C) states:

Rules Inapplicable. The rules, other than those with respect to privileges, do not apply in the following situations:

(1) Preliminary questions of fact. The determination of questions of fact preliminary to admissibility of evidence when the issue is to be determined by the court under Rule 104(a).
(2) Miscellaneous proceedings. Proceedings relating to extradition, sentencing, probation, or parole; issuance of criminal summonses, or of warrants for arrest or search, preliminary juvenile matters, direct contempt, bail hearings, small claims, and grand jury proceedings.

Interestingly enough, no mention of depositions is made in the proceedings excluded.

Ind.T.R. 30(C) states in part:

Examination and cross-examination of witnesses may proceed as permitted at the trial under the provisions of Rule 43(B). *** All objections made at the time of the examination to the qualifications of the officer taking the deposition, or to the manner of taking it, or to the evidence presented, or to the conduct of any party, and any other objection to the proceedings, shall be noted by the officer upon the deposition. When there is an objection to a question, the objection and reason therefr shall be noted, and the question shall be answered unless the attorney instructs the deponent not to answer, or the deponent refuses to answer, in which case either party may have the question certified by the Reporter, and the question with the objection thereto when so certified shall be delivered to the party requesting the certification who may then proceed under Rule 37(A).

Ind. T.R. 32(B) states:

Objections to admissibility. Subject to the provisions of Rule 28(B) and subdivision (D)(3) of this rule, objection may be made at the trial or hearing to receiving in evidence any depositions or part thereof for any reason which would require the exclusion of the evidence if the witness were then present and testifying.
* * *

(D) Effect of errors and irregularities in depositions


(3) As to taking of deposition.

(a) Objections to the competency of a witness or to the competency, relevancy, or materiality of testimony are not waived by failure to make them before or during the taking of the deposition, unless the ground of the objection is one which might have been obviated or removed if presented at that time.
(b) Errors and irregularities occurring at the oral examination in the manner of taking the deposition, in the form of the questions or answers, in the oath or affirmation, or in the conduct of parties and errors of any kind which might be obviated, removed, or cured if promptly presented, are waived unless reasonable objection thereto is made at the taking of the deposition. ***

Ind. T.R. 43(B) then reads:

Evidence on motions. When a motion is based on facts not appearing of record the court may hear the matter on affidavits presented by the respective parties, but the court may direct that the matter be heard wholly or partly on oral testimony or depositions.

My take away from all of this is that if you want to use the deposition at trial or in connection with a motion for summary judgment, then the rules of evidence would apply. Also, if you do not object to the presence of the expert at the time of the deposition pursuant to IRE 615 the objection is waived because it could have been obviated by the opposing attorney by ordering the expert to leave. If the opposing attorney disagrees then you would have to hope you win the issue at trial or stop the deposition and immediately file a motion to terminate under Ind. T.R. 30(D).  As a result, I would think a court would find IRE 615 applicable to a deposition.

That being said, I think having an expert present to aid you in examining another expert would usually be “a person whose presence is shown by a party to be essential to the presentation of the party’s cause” under IRE 615(C). In Ledden v Kuzma, 858 N.E.2d 186 (Ind.Ct.App.2006), the Kuzmas sought a protective order barring Ledden’s expert from attending Ledden’s deposition of the Kuzmas’ expert witness. The Court of Appeals stated:

Under appropriate circumstances, it may be proper for a protective order to be granted barring an expert -or anyone else – from attending the deposition in question. If a party is able to meet the requirements of Trial Rule 26(c)(5), then a protective order would be warranted. But if, as here, a party is unable to provide any particular and specific demonstration of fact in support of the request for a protective order, then there is no reason – based in logic or rule – to bar the expert from attending the deposition.

Generic allegations of prejudice were made in Ledden v Kuzma.  A factual demonstration supported by evidence of real harm seems to be required given the holding in Ledden v Kuzma.

Trial is a different thing. The argument for the a separation of witnesses is weaker at the discovery stage since you may need the help of your own expert to pin someone down at the pretrial discovery stage whether investigation is needed. While IRE 615(C) does allow a party to designate a person whose presence is essential to their presentation to be present in the courtroom, this creates practical problems and raises concerns about “fairness in administration” and “the end that the truth may be ascertained and proceedings justly determined.” See IRE 102 Purpose and Construction.

When I had this occur in a trial, I successfully argued that the defense expert is not allow to watch the trial and weigh evidence as this is the sole province of the jury. IRE 702(A) states:

If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.

Allowing expert to attend the trial and opine is a kin to having a shadow jury. Such a process misleads the jury as to an expert’s true role which is to aid the jury in deciding the case, not supplant them. Trial testimony by the expert could run afoul of Rule 704(B) since the expert would in essence be testifying as to whether a witness (including your expert) testified truthfully by opining after watching all the witnesses testify.  Also, Ind.T.R. 26 requires that the basis and opinion of an expert be seasonably disclosed before the trial. An expert’s opinion would change and morph as the trial progressed. The expert, not the jury, would resolve questions of fact, credibility and the weight to be given witness testimony and items of evidence. Such expert testimony could impair or deprive a party of their constitutional right to trial by jury.

So, what do you think?

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