Category Archives: separation of witnesses

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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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.

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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