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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…

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Motion in Limine: An Effective Pretrial Tool and Weapon – Wrongful Death & Remarriage (Part 6)

Skunk

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.

What to Do When They Call Your Client a Liar, a Fraud and a Cheat.

20140401-000813.jpgThe defense has enlisted the aid of a hired gun “expert” who insinuates or is going to testify that your client is a malingerer or a fraud. What can you do to address such tactics? Can you exclude the testimony? Should you address it head on or skirt the issue? Hopefully, this blog will offer some strategies to address this sort of tactic.

Motion in Limine

This is one approach that you could take. File a motion in limine to exclude such testimony. Indiana Rule of Evidence 704(b) provides:

Witnesses may not testify to opinions about intent, guilt, or innocence in a criminal case; the truth or falsity of allegations; whether a witness has testified truthfully; or legal conclusions.

In contrast, Indiana Rule of Evidence 608(a) provides:

Opinion and Reputation Evidence of Character. The credibility of a witness may be attacked or supported by evidence in the form of opinion or reputation, but subject to these limitations: (1) the evidence may refer only to character for truthfulness, and (2) evidence of truthful character is admissible only after the character of the witness for truthfulness has been attacked by opinion or reputation evidence or otherwise.

So how do you reconcile these two conflicting provisions? Well, Rule 704(b) applies to expert opinions, while Rule 608(a) deals with opinions of lay witnesses. The Federal counterpart to Indiana Rule of Evidence 704 is limited to criminal cases in instances where the mental state or sanity of the Defendant is at issue. This rule provides:

(b) No expert witness testifying with respect to the mental state or condition of a defendant in a criminal case may state an opinion or inference as to whether the defendant did or did not have the mental state or condition constituting an element of the crime charged or of a defense thereto. Such ultimate issues are matters for the trier of fact alone.

The advisory committee notes indicates that this limitation prevents experts from invading the province of the jury in criminal cases where sanity or the mens rea is at issue. The rule prevents a confusing “battle of the experts” and preserves the decision on the ultimate issue of state of mind for the jury, rather than leaving it in the hands of retained experts. The rule promotes reliability by preventing testimony on the legal connotations of a medical diagnosis, a role the American Psychiatric Association admits that psychiatrists are not qualified to fill.See United States v. Austin, 981 F.2d 1163, 1166 (10th Cir.1992); see also United States v. Wood, 207 F.3d 1222, 1236 (10th Cir.2000) (Rule 704(b) is intended to prevent “intrusion[s] into the province of the jury”). Another court has similarly written:

The theoretical effect of Rule 704(b) is to make it possible for juries to find a defendant not guilty by reason of insanity even if no expert would draw that same conclusion. Conversely, the rule also permits juries to find a defendant sane and guilty even if every expert would opine that the defendant was insane. The purpose of Rule 704(b) is to have jurors decide whether the defendant was sane or not without being told what conclusion an expert might draw. United States v. West, 962 F.2d 1243, 1247 (7th Cir.1992).

While there is not much in the way of case law in Indiana interpreting this provision, at least one jurist. See Sears Roebuck v. Manuilov, 742 N.E.2d 453 (Ind. 2001)(upholding admission of medical testimony under I.R.E. 702 establishing post-concussive syndrome). In his dissenting opinion, Justice Boehm stated:

“Dr. Blinder testified, among other things, that in his opinion Manuilov was not a malingerer. This opinion was not based on observation of physical symptoms or scientifically valid tests, but on Blinder’s observation of Manuilov’s behavior and accounts of that behavior furnished by Manuilov or his counsel. Among the latter was the assurance that Manuilov had no criminal history or anti-social behavior.

Blinder told the jury that Manuilov had no criminal history and suggested he was not a “wife beater.” These assumptions were explicitly made a basis of his view that Manuilov was not a malingerer. This was not challenged under Indiana Evidence Rule 704(b), which provides that a witness may not testify as to whether another “witness has testified truthfully,” so, to the extent this is an issue, it is not presented here.”
. [Emphasis Added].

It seems likely that if a timely objection is made under Indiana Evidence Rule 704(b) to testimony regarding expert opinions on malingering that it, would be sustained, in an effort to preserve the jury’s autonomy in assessing the credibility of witnesses and avoiding problems associated with a battle of the experts. This dissenting opinion of Justice Boehm is the only discussion I have located on this specific topic in any judicial opinion in The State of Indiana. In Morse v. Davis, 965 N.E.2d 148 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012), trans. denied., the Indiana Court of Appeals held that no witness, lay or expert, is competent to testify that another witness is or is not telling the truth.

The Direct Approach – Polarizing The Jury

The is an important book which provides a comprehensive approach to this problem and in fact fully embraces the issue and in fact welcomes a clear claim of malinger. The book is called “Polarizing the Jury“. by Rick Friedman. This book provides an innovative approach to trying cases. Too often we allow the defense in personal-injury cases to hide behind ambiguities and insinuate that our client is not being truthful. This book provides you with concrete examples to force your opponent to either embrace fully embrace the position; that your client is “a liar, a cheat and a fraud” or completely abandon this position.

The book provides a comprehensive approach to simplify your case, focus the jury’s attention and deal with a single coherent theme… Is my client telling truth about his or her injuries? At each stage in the proceedings the defense is forced to either clearly adopt the position that your client is “a liar, a cheat and a fraud” or clearly reject the position. The defense and it’s experts are forced through questioning or discovery to either adopt or reject this position.

The defense is not allowed to hide behind ambiguous positions or attack your client through innuendo or vague and insidious suggestions of doubt. The primary weapon to combat such experts and a defense are lay witnesses who can provide a clear before and after picture of changes in your client’s life by the defendant’s tortious acts. The issue in opening is framed as follows:

This is the person that they want you to believe is a liar, a cheat and a fraud.

You will hear a lot of witnesses and see a lot of evidence in this case. But in the end, there is really on what only one major issue you need to decide is my client a liar, a cheat, and a fraud?

That is the defense in this case.

If he is a liar, a cheat and a fraud, you should send him out of this courtroom without a cent. But if you decide he’s telling the truth, that he is truly injured, and the defense is attacking him in order to avoid paying for the harm they have caused, then your verdict needs to ensure that they do not profit from this tactic and you should consider what would be fair compensation for the injuries and losses my client has suffered and for the impact this collision and its impact on their relationship as husband and wife.

I strongly recommend that you obtain the book as it effectively helps you frame the issue in a fashion that it is understandable to a jury and combats the false doubts raised through the use of veiled attacks and innuendos against your client’s integrity and honesty.

Closing the Deal – Addressing the Attacks in Closing Argument
Here are some arguments to present to the jury in your rebuttal:

WHEN THE LAW & FACTS ARE AGAINST YOU: In law school they say if the facts are in your favor, argue facts, if law is in your favor, argue law, if neither law or facts are in your favor, argue like a lawyer and try to confuse the jury about what the case is really about. It’s the oldest trick in the book. The defense took a nice simple case that is straight forward and tried to make it complicated by pointing to a bunch things that really have nothing to do with the case’s merit, in hopes that you’ll forget what this case is really about.

Another argument to present to a defense request for the jury to make his arguments for him when he sits down as suggested by the noted Attorney Moe Levine:

Countless attorneys, skilled and persuasive each with their own acquired tricks to influence a jury by sowing the subtle seeds of cynicism. One of these is that when he sits down, he appoints you as his assistants and gives you permission to share with him the responsibility to represent his client in the jury room by answering each of my arguments to you. However, if this were truly the case, what need would there be to sum up at all? We would simply send you to the jury room and ask you to deliberate. This type of argument is not new to me. It is insidious and subtle. It ask you to take on the role of an advocate instead of that of a fair and impartial judge of the facts. Such comments subtly shape your view of the evidence. it moves you from a role where you are impartial, unbiased and neutral, to a role of where you act as an advocate for one side over the other. These techniques are subtle but effective.

When the defense attacks through the use of innuendos:

He attacks by innuendo asking how can we know what the evidence shows when my client says he is in pain from this collision. He has had problems before. How can this be different. This to is subtle because what he is really saying is my client is a liar and a cheat and a fraud. He won’t come right out and say because he knows such a statement is outrageous and unworthy of consideration. In fact it is insulting. Instead you subtly insinuate that something is not right, plant the seeds of cynicism and hope that back in the jury room they will sprout.

This flies in the face of the evidence presented. To buy into this argument you would have to conclude that:

A. If Their Goal Was Money: My client and his spouse have come into this Court and both lied. If this were about fraud would not you make greater claims? Wouldn’t you have run up unnecessary treatment? Would you be constantly complaining about your condition and claiming that your pain did not improve with treatment. Wouldn’t you do everything in your power to make you case more valuable. This has not occurred. My client has worked to get better and in fact has had periods of remission where his pain has improved even though it has never completely gone away.

B. Speculative and Unsupported Causes: He also has insinuated that something else must has caused his symptoms. He does this with evidence of any sort and again subtle plants the seeds of cynicism by asking questions and suggesting facts that no one has testified exist. It is undisputed that my client complained of symptoms at the scene and told the investigating police officer of this. The defense has no Doctor who has said such things. If the medical evidence is there, he could have hired an expert to say this is so. Instead of evidence, he has asked that you guess and speculate. This is not allowed.

Conclusion

I hope these strategies assist you in dealing with unfair attacks on your clients integrity.;

Why It Doesn’t Always Pay to be the Smartest Guy in the Room

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Ego… All good trial attorneys have it.  Without a little ego it would be difficult to stand up and try to persuade a bunch of strangers you just met to acquit your client or award your client a significant sum of money.  It takes not hard work and preparation, but a fair amount of moxie and courage to be an effective trial attorney.  However, it does not always pay to be the smartest guy in the room.  I learned this early on as a trial attorney while prosecuting  cases.  I would always work hard to anticipate evidentiary issues that might arise, look up cases, copy and highlight them so I was ready if a question of admissibility were to arise.  As my experience grew, I incorporated this research into my trial notebook which I have covered in an earlier post.  Sometimes in my zeal to win and impress the judge, I would jump the gun before it was really necessary and start quoting case-law and the rules of evidence or procedure to the judge.  Most judges have a fair amount of ego too and want to believe that they are the smartest guy in the room.   Even if they aren’t, most juries will think that they are. Some judges even have what is commonly called “black-robe-it is” and feel that they are infallible and will demean attorneys who dare to disagree with them.  Now, if I see that the judge is likely to take up my position on a legal point, I don’t interrupt, interject authority or case-law until I am asked to so by the Court.  It better for the judge to think your position is the judge’s own idea and take ownership of your position.  I am careful to let the judge shine as the smartest guy in the room as long as things are moving in my client’s favor.  So next time a legal issue arise, pause and see how the Court is approaching the topic before speaking.  Then you will be the smartest guy in the room, even if you are the only who knows it.

Litigation Against an Organization: Why you need to do a Rule 30(B)(6) deposition.

If you are suing an organization, it is important that you familiarize yourself with the provisions of Rule 30(b)(6).  Rule of Procedure 30(b)(6) provides in pertinent part:

Notice or Subpoena Directed to an Organization. In its notice or subpoena, a party may name as the deponent a public or private corporation, a partnership, an association, a governmental agency, or other entity and must describe with reasonable particularity the matters for examination. The named organization must then designate one or more officers, directors, or managing agents, or designate other persons who consent to testify on its behalf; and it may set out the matters on which each person designated will testify. A subpoena must advise a nonparty organization of its duty to make this designation. The persons designated must testify about information known or reasonably available to the organization. This paragraph (6) does not preclude a deposition by any other procedure allowed by these rules.

The organization (not you) has the obligation of designating the person or persons needed to adequately answer the questions posed in the various designated areas you wish to ask questions.  You as the deposing party have the burden of meeting the “reasonable particularity” requirement of adequately designating the subject areas of questioning.  The statements given by the person(s) designated by the organization bind the organization as an admission of a party-opponent.

This is not necessarily the case when a statement is given by a low-level employee who is not a “member of the limited liability company”  or officer/director of a corporate organization  since their statements only bind the organization if they are:

1) made within the scope of their authority and

2) the person is still employed and has a relationship with the organization.

Under Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2), “non-hearsay” for the “admission of a party-opponent” is defined as follows:

(d) Statements which are not hearsay. A statement is not hearsay if –

*   *   *

(2) Admission by party-opponent. The statement is offered against a party and is (A) the party’s own statement, in either an individual or a representative capacity or (B) a statement of which the party has manifested adoption or belief in its truth, or (C) a statement by a person authorized by the party to make a statement concerning the subject, or (D) a statement by the party’s agent or servant concerning a matter within the scope of the party’s agency or employment, made during the existence of the relationship, or (E) a statement by a coconspirator of a party during the course and in furtherance of the conspiracy.

A Rule 30(b)(6) declarant/deponent’s answers to questions during the deposition are considered a “statement by a person authorized by the party to make a statement about the subject“.  The organization can only authorize such a statement if the area of questioning has been identified in the deposition notice.  The trick is to make sure your designation of the areas of questioning is specific enough to cover the questions you wish to pursue during the deposition.  Otherwise, the organization is free to argue that they were not authorized to make the statement and bind the organization.  One caveat to this point, is that the organization likely has a duty to raise the objection at the time of the deposition if the problem could have been obviated at the time of the deposition by making a clarification in the question. Rule 32(d)(3)(A) states that “[a]n 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.”

If the opposing party designates the wrong person or fails to prepare them they risk possible discovery sanctions and ill-considered and ill-conceived answers to critical questions in the litigation.    The burden is on the organization to properly prepare and name as many people needed to answer your questions.  It is kind of like obtaining requests for admissions from your opponent on the fly.  It can be very powerful tool you can use to box in your opponent.

Motion in Limine: An Effective Pretrial Tool and Weapon (Part 2)

Here are some additional topics to consider:              

Unnecessary Medical Treatment.

You should preclude or prohibit the defense counsel from alleging or arguing that plaintiff’s accident-related medical expenses are unnecessary or unreasonable.  All damages directly attributable to the wrong are recoverable by the victim.  The law also typically allows an injured plaintiff to recover reasonable costs of necessary medical treatment.  Dee v. Becker, 636 N.E. 2d 176, 178 (Ind. App. 1994).  The Indiana Supreme Court has held that the phrase “reasonable and necessary,” as a qualification for the damages recoverable by an injured party, means (1) that the amount of medical expense claimed must be reasonable, (2) that the nature and extent of the treatment claimed must be necessary in the sense that it proximately resulted from the wrongful conduct of another… . The Indiana Supreme Court observed and found that a defendant may not dispute the medical judgment of the plaintiff’s medical providers in choosing to administer the questioned studies and treatment. Sibbing v. Cave, 922 N.E.2d 594, 599-600 (Ind. 2010) Rule 413 of Evidence as adopted in Indiana eliminated the confusion regarding the evidence that is required to satisfy the “reasonableness” requirement.  The very first sentence of IRE 413 asserts flatly that medical statements occasioned by an injury are admissible.  Rule 413 provides that the bills shall constitute prima facie evidence that the charges are reasonable and medical bills come into evidence without any proof of reasonableness or necessity.  In Indiana, personal injury plaintiffs no longer have to prove that they personally paid the medical bills or produce an expert as to the reasonableness of the charge, just necessity when it is contested. Normally , competent medical testimony is necessary to enable the jury to determine which of a plaintiff’s damages and medical expenses are related to a trauma and which are not.  Sikora v. Fromm, 887, N.E.2d 499 (Ind. App. 2002).  In Sikora, the Court of Appeals stated that expenditures for various medical treatments, drugs, and tests, like MRI’s, cannot be properly evaluated by the jury without a medical explanation that they were causally connected to the fall.      

Seat Belts.

Depending on the state of the law in your jurisdiction, a defense counsel may be precluded from mentioning or offering any evidence concerning the plaintiff’s seat belt use or lack of seat belt use.      

Relation of Propert Damage to Injuries.

Any argument or suggestion by defense counsel that there is a causal connection or correlation between the amount or degree of property damage to the vehicles and the severity or degree of injury to the plaintiff. Because the facts of the collision and the damage to the vehicles involved are not at issue in this case, photographs or the vehicles, property damage invoices, or other evidence regarding the extent or amount of property damage is not relevant.  Rule of Evidence 401 defines relevant evidence as that which makes the existence of any fact of consequence more or less probably to be relevant.  RE 401.  Evidence that fails to meet that definition is irrelevant and is inadmissible.  RE 402.  Defense lawyers routinely introduce property damage estimates and property damage photographs to the jury and argue that minimal damage means little or no damage to the occupants.  There is no reliable scientific basis for the argument that there is a direct and reliable correlation between the degree of property damage to a vehicle and the type/severity of injury to the occupants.  Such photographs, if used for the purpose of disproving causation, are inadmissible because they are not relevant, may confuse or be misused and invite the jury to speculate on the issue of causation.    There is a lot out there on this topic.       

Settlement Discussions and Mediation

Any mention or suggestion to the jury that the plaintiff or defendant attempted to negotiate a settlement of this case or that the case is in trial because of greed or some other improper motive by plaintiff for not accepting an offer of settlement violate Rule 408. Any mention or suggestion to the jury that the case was submitted to mediation is normally proper except in case where the cause of action arises out of the settlement itself such as a claim of bad faith settlement practices, fraud or breach of the settlement agreement.  Rule of Evidence 408 specifically states that evidence of conduct or statements made in compromise negotiations are not admissible and that compromise negotiations “encompass alternative dispute resolution”.  Alternative Dispute Resolution Rules likewise limit the use of matter discussed during a settlement conference or mediation. Additional areas will be discussed in my next post.
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Mastering the Rules of Evidence: Is it really important?

Early in my career, the “rules” of evidence were derived by reading case-law and the handful of statutes that addressed privilege and competence. If you wanted to know the “rules”, you had to research and read case-law. The only ready compendium were books like Graham’s Handbook on Federal Evidence. Today, litigators in every state and federal.court have a set of rules modeled after the ones used in federal courts.

If you want to master the rules, you need to read them through, beginning to end before every bench or jury trial. This will remind you of potential problems you need to address in you motions in limine, your exhibits and witnesses‘ testimony. You will spot problems with evidentiary proof you might otherwise overlook in your case and that of your opponent. You will better understand the policies behind the rules and the significance of the various sections of rules that deal with preliminary questions of fact, objections, offers to prove, judicial notice, relevancy, character evidence, impeachment, lay and expert witnesses, hearsay, authentication and alternate forms of proof approved for use at trial to prove a document’s content. Eventually, you will be able to cite the significant rules by number which will enhance your credibility with the judge and jury. It will also unsettle your opponent and inhibit his willingness to object to your questions, witnesses and exhibits since he won’t want to look bad in front of the jury by having his objection overruled. If you have a smart phone, there are applications that will contain the Rules of Evidence that you can readily reference such as Lawbox.

So get start today! It will increase you competence and your confidence in the courtroom.
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