Why Sorry is the Badest Word…
An expression of regret or an apology by a Defendant is nothing new when a case doesn’t settle and finally makes it to trial. However, should this be allowed? Why no!
Defendants should be prohibited from expressing any apologies or statements of regret to the jury in connection with a civil case not seeking punitive damages. Whether one is sorry or not for injuring a person constitutes neither a defense, nor is it relevant to any issue concerning whether or not to grant compensatory damages. The sole purpose of making such a statement to a jury is to encourage them to return a reduced verdict because the Defendant is sorry about what happened and is really a good guy. General appeals to sympathy or prejudice on the part of a jury are inappropriate and should be prohibited by a trial court. The jury’s obligation is to render a verdict for just compensation, not to hear confessions or grant absolution. Their function is not to forgive, it is to fairly compensate one for their injuries. Only God can forgive.
Any references made to this effect should not be permitted as they are calculated to mislead and confuse the jury and would clearly be immaterial and irrelevant to any issue involving either liability or damages. See Rules of Evidence 402 and 403. See generally, King’s Indiana Billiard Co. v. Winters, 123 Ind. App. 110, 127, 106 N.E.2d 713, 721 (1952). So cut this tactic off with a pretrial motion in limine. Otherwise you may be sorry you didn’t.
Limiting the Damage
So you lose an evidentiary argument and the court allows some potentially prejudicial evidence to be presented for some narrow purpose such as bias, impeachment or to show intent, similar plan, motive or scheme. So what should you do?
Indiana follows “the rule of multiple admissibility” endorsed by the evidence treatises of both Whitmore and McCormick. Under this rule, evidence that is admissible for one purpose is admissible, even though it might be excluded from consideration by the jury if it was offered for another improper purpose. The opponent of the evidence is protected, not by exclusion of the evidence, but instead by the use of a limiting instruction. Indiana Evidence Rule 105 provides:
“If the court admits evidence that is admissible against a party or for a purpose—but not against another party or for another purpose—the court, on timely request, must restrict the evidence to its proper scope and instruct the jury accordingly.”
The party seeking to limit the evidence has the duty to request the instruction. Small v. State, 736 N.E.2d 742, 746 (Ind. 2000) (observing “a trial court has no affirmative duty to admonish a jury sua sponte as to such evidentiary matters”). As a result you should ask the court to specifically define the area of use and address inappropriate inferences or uses which are prohibited. Indiana Pattern Instruction No. 527 Evidence Admitted for a Limited Purposes states:
During the trial, I instructed you to consider certain evidence only for specific, limited purposes. You must consider that evidence only for those limited purposes.
Evidence relevant for some legitimate purpose, can only be excluded if it violates the precepts of Indiana Rule of Evidence 403. Under this rule, the danger of unfair prejudice has to substantially outweigh the evidence’s probative value in order to exclude it, thereby tipping the scales in favor of admissibility.
Keep these thoughts in mind the next time you need to limit the damage…
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.”
Screen Your Expert and Treat Your Case Right by Avoiding Any Big Tricks…
An area which is often overlooked is screening your expert. This is important. Treat it
like you would a major purchase, because it is.
(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.”
When silence is golden… The tacit admission.
Indiana Rule of Evidence 801(A) provides:
A “statement” is (1) an oral or written assertion or (2) nonverbal conduct of a person, if it is intended by the person as an assertion.A tacit admission may be made when a person remains silent or makes an equivocal response to an accusation which the person would ordinarily be expected to deny. The accusation must be made in the presence and hearing of the accused person, and the person must have an opportunity to respond. 16 INPRAC § 7.9d Criminal Procedure–Pretrial. A tacit admission may be made when a person remains silent or makes an equivocal response to an accusation which the person would ordinarily be expected to deny. The accusation must be made in the presence and hearing of the accused person and the person must have an opportunity to respond. 12 Ind. Law Encyc., Evidence, §§ 135, 136; House v. State, 535 N.E.2d 103 (Ind. 1989)(held silence or equivocal response to assertion made by another, which would ordinarily be expected to be denied, is tacit admission, and the assertion and the words or conduct are admissible if reaction is not clear denial.), citing with approval to, Moredock v. State (1982), Ind., 441 N.E.2d 1372, 1374; Wickliffe v. State (1981), Ind., 424 N.E.2d 1007, 1009; Jethroe v. State (1974), 262 Ind. 505, 319 N.E.2d 133, 138–139. The chance to turn a person’s silence into a weapon should not be missed. It could be silence in the face of strong accusations made during the course of the meeting or even a judicial hearing. The key is to recognize situations which present themselves during the course of your investigation. The implied assertions for silence may be made during the course of custodial interrogation, during the course of a guilty plea or even during a sentencing hearing. Such instances may be pure gold for your case. So be alert.
Motion in Limine: An Effective Pretrial Tool and Weapon – Wrongful Death & Remarriage (Part 6)
The defense oftentimes wants to muddy the waters and misdirect or sway the jury away from a person’s cause with information that is irrelevant or unfairly prejudicial. Wrongful death cases are no exception and remarriage is one of those topics. Fortunately, Indiana court’s have joined the majority of jurisdictions which have prohibited such tactics by the defense as irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial.
The general rule in Indiana is that in a wrongful death action a right of action or an amount of recovery is not affected by the fact that the surviving spouse has remarried or contemplates remarriage. Wabash R. Co. v. Gretzinger (1914), 182 Ind. 155, 104 N.E. 69; Consolidated Stone Co. v. Morgan (1903), 160 Ind. 241, 66 N.E. 696; Gilmer v. Carney, 608 N.E.2d 709 (Ind. Ct. App. 1993); City of Bloomington v. Holt (1977) 172 Ind. App. 650, 711, 361 N.E.2d 1211(held motion in limine prohibiting mention of the fact, probability or possibility of remarriage of the plaintiff including with whom he is residing was proper). This restriction applies and restricts proof that a spouse is living with another person and applies regardless of gender. City of Bloomington v. Holt, supra.
The enactment of IC 34-4-36-1,2 concerning payments from collateral sources should not be read or interpreted as changing Indiana’s traditional common law view. The collateral source statute clearly addresses only evidence of monetary payments. Gilmer v. Carney, supra. Since statutes in derogation of the common law are to be strictly construed and should not be extended beyond their express terms or what they unmistakably imply, Indianapolis Power Light v. Brad Snodgrass, Inc. (1991) Ind., 578 N.E.2d 669, IC 34-4-36-2 should not be extended to embrace nonmonetary items such as remarriage. Id.
So be ready for this issue and address it in your pretrial motion in limine so that the defense is prohibited from throwing a skunk into the jury box.
Medical Malpractice: When Common Sense Trumps Expert Knowledge
Medical malpractice cases are difficult and expensive to litigate. However, sometimes experts are not required… Just common sense.
Indiana has long embraced the “common knowledge exception” to requirements of expert testimony in certain matters. A physician’s allegedly negligent act or omission can be so obvious that expert testimony is unnecessary. Wright v. Carter, 622 N.E.2d 170, 171 (Ind. 1993).
In Indiana, cases where expert opinion evidence is not necessary typically involve the failure of the operating physician to remove some foreign object from the patient’s body. Funk v. Bonham (1932), 204 Ind. 170, 183 N.E. 312 (sponge left in abdomen), Ciesiolka v. Selby (1970), 147 Ind. App. 396, 261 N.E.2d 95 (teflon mesh left in abdomen); Klinger v. Caylor (1971),148 Ind. App. 508, 267 N.E.2d 848 (“surgical padding” left in intestinal tract); and Burke v. Capello (1988), Ind.,520 N.E.2d 439 (cement left in hip). Likewise, in a similar fashion, res ipsa loquitur applied when a patient’s oxygen mask caught fire during surgery, see Cleary v.Manning, 884 N.E.2d 335, 339 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008).
This same sort of common sense approach is endorsed in other jurisdictions as well.Bernsden v. Johnson, 174 Kan. 230, 236-37, 255 P.2d 1033 (1953)(applying exception when post-surgery choking was caused by metal disc lodged in patient’s throat); Biggs v. Cumberland County Hospital System, Inc., 69 N.C.App. 547, 317 S.E.2d 421 (1984) (where patient is known to be in weakened condition and is left alone in shower, where she falls, expert testimony on standards for nurse’s aides not required); Burks v. Christ Hosp., 19 Ohio St.2d 128, 131, 249 N.E.2d 829 (1969) (sedated, obese patient fell from hospital bed without side rails); Cockerton v. Mercy Hospital Medical Center, 490 N.W.2d 856 (Iowa App.1992)(where patient fell while in x-ray room expert testimony was not required on hospital’s negligence); Dimora v. Cleveland Clinic Found., 114 Ohio App.3d 711, 718, 683 N.E.2d 1175 (8th Dist.1996) (patient fell after student nurse left her unattended at her walker while opening a door); German v. Nichopoulos, 577 S.W.2d 197, 202-03 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1978) overruled on other grounds by Seavers, 9 S.W.3d at 96; Green v. Lilliewood, 272 S.C. 186, 249 S.E.2d 910 (1978) (holding tubal ligation rendering intrauterine device and other birth control device useless constitutes a matter of common knowledge); Hickman v. Sexton Dental Clinic, P.A., 295 S.C. 164, 367 S.E.2d 453 (Ct. App. 1988) (holding evidence presented was sufficient for the jury to infer without the aid of expert testimony a breach of duty to dental patient where patient testified an unsupervised dental assistant rammed a sharp object into patient’s mouth); Hubbard v. Reed, 168 N.J. 387, 395, 774 A.2d 495, 500 (2001) (case in which the defendant dentist allegedly pulled the wrong tooth); LaCourse v. Flower Hosp., 6th Dist. Lucas No. L–02–1004, 2002-Ohio-3816, 2002 WL 1729897, ¶ 16;) McConkey v. State, 128 S.W.3d 656, 660 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2003); Murphy v. Schwartz, 739 S.W.2d 777, 778 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1986); Natale v. Camden County Correctional Facility, 318 F.3d 575 (3d Cir.2003) (personnel failed to call treating physician to determine how often insulin was to be administered); Newhall v. Central Vermont Hospital, Inc., 133 Vt. 572, 349 A.2d 890 (1975)(expert testimony not required where nurse failed to respond to sedated patient’s call and patient got out of bed and fell); Palanque v. Lambert-Woolley, 168 N.J. 398, 400, 774 A.2d 501 (2001)(misread the specimen identification numbers as plaintiff’s test result numbers and mistakenly determined that plaintiff had an ectopic pregnancy) Robbins v. Jewish Hospital of St. Louis, 663 S.W.2d 341 (Mo.App.1983) (expert testimony not required where bed rails not raised and brain damaged patient fell out); Rule v. Cheeseman, Executrix, 181 Kan. 957, 963, 317 P.2d 472 (1957) (all four cases applying exception when sponge was left in patient after surgery); Schraffenberger v. Persinger, Malik & Haaf, M.D.’s, Inc., 114 Ohio App.3d 263, 267, 683 N.E.2d 60 (1st Dist.1996) (patient alleged that doctor negligently and erroneously informed him that he was sterile following a vasectomy); Schwartz v. Abay, 26 Kan.App.2d 707, 995 P.2d 878 (1999) (applying exception where surgeon removed 60% of the wrong vertebral disc); Seavers v. Methodist Med. Ctr. of Oak Ridge, 9 S.W.3d 86, 92 (Tenn. 1999); Thomas v. Dootson, 377 S.C. 293, 659 S.E.2d 253 (Ct. App. 2008) (recognizing expert testimony was not required for claim arising from a surgical drill that burned skin on contact because claim would fall within the common knowledge or experience of laymen); Veesart v. Community Hospital Asso., 211 Kan. 896, 508 P.2d 506 (1973) (expert evidence not required where elderly patient fell while going to bathroom); Walker v. Southeast Alabama Medical Center, 545 So.2d 769 (Ala.1989)(where bed rail left down contrary to doctor’s order and patient fell, no expert testimony required on standard of care); Washington Hospital Center v. Martin, 454 A.2d 306 (D.C.App.1982)(mere fact that patient falls in hospital will not normally require expert testimony on hospital’s negligence).
Medical malpractice litigation is expensive enough for a citizen to pursue. Common sense propositions should not require expert testimony. The underlying purpose of Indiana’s Rules of Evidence is set forth in Rule 102:
Purpose and Construction
These rules shall be construed to secure fairness in administration, elimination of unjustifiable expense and delay, and promotion of growth and development of the law of evidence to the end that the truth may be ascertained and proceedings justly determined.
The implementation of the “common knowledge exception” “eliminates unjustifiable expense” so that the “truth may be ascertained” and “proceedings justly determined.” Trial Rule 1 of Indiana’s Rules of Trial Procedure echoes similar sentiments noting:
They shall be construed to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action.
The costs of medical malpractice cases are such that only a handful of cases are economically feasible to pursue, thereby closing the court house doors to most claims. Gary T. Schwartz, Medical Malpractice, Tort, Contract, and Managed Care, 1998 U. ILL. L. REV. 885, 895 (discussing how non-“large-damage” medical malpractice claims are impractical); Jeffrey J. Parker, Comment, Contingent Expert Witness Fees: Access and Legitimacy, 64 S. CAL. L. REV. 1363, 1369 (1991) (“[F]ees to employ necessary expert witnesses constitute substantial litigation expenses.”).
So remember that the “common knowledge exception” can be uncommonly economical and effective.
Practice… We Talking ’bout Practice…
“Practice… We talkin ’bout practice.” – Allen Iverson 2002
Just like Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia Sixers, no one likes to practice, but it is necessary if your witness and you are going to stay in sync. In order for your witness examination to be credible and persuasive, both the questioner and the witness must be on the same page. Otherwise, the testimony will come across like two ships passing in the night. The only way to get a smooth and flawless examination is for the questioner and witness to know exactly what is expected by the other. Obviously, the most important witness is usually your own client. Any run-through with your client is privileged as attorney-client communications because you are providing legal advice about how to handle their direct examination. (IRE 501 and I.C.34-1-14-5 and I.C. 34-1-60-4.) I would videotape the client’s testimony and allow them to see it so they can critique their own the delivery of their testimony.
Make sure you give the witness or your client copies of any earlier statements/depositions and, if possible, have them return to the scene of the incident to check it, note landmarks and refresh their recollection. If at all possible, you should try to meet with the witness or client at the scene of the incident so that you can discuss the scene and make sure you’re both talking about the same thing. If this is not possible, an acceptable substitute is to conduct a virtual tour of the scene utilizing Google maps or Google Earth.
Emphasize to the client or witness that accuracy is the most important thing. This requires that they clearly understand the question and avoid any exaggerations or opinions. They should stay factual in their descriptions. When a witness or client slides into opinions, they enter dangerous territory. They are prone to guess, speculate, exaggerate or just plain get it wrong.
My own favorite saying is: “Don’t take a good case, try to make it a great case, and turn it into a bad case.” The first rule I learned when as an insurance defense attorney was to let a plaintiff exaggerate all they want. There is nothing that undermines a claim or gives rise to the all-popular defense mantra of “secondary gain” than needless exaggeration.
The flip side of this is to water down answers with qualifiers such as, “I think,” “I believe,” or, “In my opinion,” when they actually know the facts. Make sure your client or witness avoids using such terminology. It is better to show that you don’t know or recall than to guess or speculate. Also, pay attention to clients who raise the pitch of their voice at the end of sentences. It makes them sound tentative or like they are checking with you on whether their answer is correct. You should only raise the pitch of your voice at the end of a sentence when you are asking a question.
Once again, the primary rule is to answer truthfully and accurately.
Shutting Off the Defense Doctor’s Flood of Misinformation
In my last post, I discussed an analogy to deal with tactics used by your opponent to muddy the waters. Well, the problem is you have to drag the hogs out of the spring waters and it takes time to clear matters up. What if you could keep them out of the water altogether?
Have you ever had a defense doctor summarize everything under the sun regarding your client’s medical history in an effort to cloud the issues or mislead the jury, knowing you cannot afford to drag every doctor into court to undo the harm? Well a good portion of such evidence may be totally inadmissible.
Contrary to what a number of attorneys argue. The Rules of Evidence do not permit the admission of materials relied upon by expert witness for truth of matters they contain, if the materials are otherwise inadmissible. Rules of Evidence Rule 703. Faulkner v. Markkay of Indiana, Inc., 633 N.E.2d 798. (Ind. Ct. App 1996). The Rules simply allow the expert’s opinion to be based upon matters outside the official court record, if it is the sort of information typically relied upon in the expert’s field to render an opinion.
Evidence Rule 703 states, “[e]xperts may testify to opinions based on inadmissible evidence, provided that it is of the type reasonably relied upon by a experts in the field.” Ind. Evid. R. 702 permits the admission of expert opinion testimony but not opinions contained in documents prepared out of court by other medical doctors. Evidence Rule 703 permits a testifying expert to rely on such materials, including inadmissible hearsay, in forming the basis of his opinion.
However, it does not allow an expert’s reliance on hearsay or other inadmissible evidence to be used as a conduit for placing unavailable experts or physicians’ statements before a jury. In other words, the expert witness must rely on his own expertise in reaching his opinion and may not simply repeat the opinions of others. See Miller v. State, 575 N.E.2d 272, 274-75 (Ind.1991) (physician could rely upon but not repeat what another physician told him about diagnosis of defendant’s girlfriend).
Opinions or diagnosis of doctors who are unavailable to testify and not subject to cross examination do not come in as business records under Rule of Evidence 803(6). Where a party seeks to admit medical or hospital records that contain opinions, the proponent of the records is required to establish the expertise of the opinion giver under Rule of Evidence 702. Cook v. Whitesell-Sherman, 796 N.E.2d 271, 278 (Ind. 2003); Wilkinson v. Swafford, 811 N.E.2d 374, 391 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004)(citing In re Matter of E.T. and B.T., 808 N.E.2d 639 (Ind. 2004)), abrogated on other grounds by Willis v. Westerfield, 839 N.E.2d 1179 (Ind. 2006); Walker v. Cuppett, 808 N.E.2d 85, 97-98 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004). If the proponent fails to satisfy this foundational requirement, then such records are inadmissible. See Also. Schloot v. Guinevere Real Estate Corp., 697 N.E.2d 1273 (Ind.App.1998), (held that medical opinions within the certified medical records were not admissible). Similarly, Rule of Evidence 703 permits experts to base their opinions on hearsay, but does not permit them to testify as to hearsay medical opinions.
Nor are they admissible as statements made for purposes of diagnosis or treatment under Rule of Evidence 803(4). That exception is limited to only statements made by patients, not doctors. Sibbing v. Cave, 922 N.E.2d 594, (Ind. 2010)(prohibited plaintiff from reciting hearsay testimony at trial about what doctor told her about her injuries and diagnosis).
Finally, if such opinions or diagnosis are included in your client’s medical history, such statements represent multiple levels of hearsay based upon conversations by the client with doctors or other healthcare providers who are not subject to cross-examination and whose qualifications to render an expert opinion have not yet been established. Each level of hearsay must separately satisfy the requirements of Evidence Rules 702, 802 and 901 (authenticity). See Rule of Evidence 805 which deals with multiple levels of hearsay. This rule states, “Hearsay included within hearsay is not excluded under the hearsay rule if each part of the combined statements conforms with an exception to the hearsay rule provided in these rules.”
One caveat to note on cross-examination of the defense doctor. Rule 703 does allow for you to inquire on cross examination at to the basis. It provides “The expert may in any event be required to disclose the underlying facts or data on cross-examination.” However, be careful because you could open the door to inadmissible and damaging items being brought out on redirect.
Be ready for this issue and close the floodgates of misinformation through the use of timely objections or a motion in limine.
How to Use Your iPad and OneNote as a Secret Weapon for Use in Trial
I was looking for a program that could emulate the structure of my paper file system that I use for jury trials. I looked at several programs that were touted as the answer for use on my iPad. I looked at all the Apple App World had to offer to no avail. I download one such program and found it to be slow and cumbersome to navigate through. I needed something with multiple tabs that could take advantage of the iPad touch-screen to navigate quickly to pull up needed information. This has always been one of the limitations of a laptop… its hard to navigate and pull up information as fast as you can with a well-organized physical paper file. After giving up hope, I came across such app called simply “Outline” for the iPad. It will import “notebooks” from the Microsoft program One-Note for ready use on the iPad. Microsoft’s OneNote works well and is affordable. It costs about $15.00 and the OneNote is likewise affordable and is typically included as part of the Microsoft Suite of Windows Business Programs. The OneNote program was designed by Microsoft as a program that could be used by students to organize their class notes and research projects. It is similar to EverNote.
I usually set up and organize my case file in the OneNote program on my desktop at work and then transfer the file to my iPad using one of several applications or programs. The iPad app can be synced with your laptop or desktop computer by a number of means, including Drop Box and iTunes. The materials are all organized just like the hard copy of my files and you can paste either links to or an electronic copy of documents such as depositions, medical journals articles and pleadings for full review.
So such as, I have major categories of documents such as pleadings, correspondence, opening, closing, instructions, pretrial motions, jury selection, evidence research, law research, medical research, settlement demands, medical records, witnesses, defense expert, exhibits, investigation, etc. These categories are listed across the top and can be scrolled through side by side. Individual documents in each major group are shown as tabs on the side of the screen and can be scrolled through up and down with a touch of your finger. I organize the tabs on top and on the side alphabetically or numerically as the case may be for ready access. If you tap the page with your finger, the program will open that page.
On each page you can paste objects or links. These can consist of Word Documents, text files, PDF, audio recordings, photographs, and deposition transcripts. These can be tapped and viewed with other applications or through “quick view” which is compatible with most of your documents. Audio files can be played with other compatible applications you have installed on your iPad. You can also electronically “print” a copy of the file onto the page as well and scroll up and down the page and read it.
It not only gives you the capability of carrying your entire file up to the podium, it will allow you to take multiple files home with you in your brief case. I can take home what amounts to twenty or thirty banker boxes home with me on my iPad. The “Outline” program accommodates multiple “notebooks” which can be search for text individually or collectively. I even have a separate notebook set up with tabs for procedural and evidentiary research notes for ready reference at Court. Below is an example of how a notebook appears:
I hope you will try this system. It is quite amazing once you get the hang of it. It is a cost-effective solution that you can easily tailor to the way that you organize your trial and case files.