Articles Posted in Discovery

Every time there is a airplane crash, we hear about the efforts to locate “the black box.”

The “black box” is a flight data recorder – a device that constantly gathers information from dozens of sources about the operation of the airplane.   There is also a cockpit voice recorder, which captures sounds in the cockpit, including the conversations among the pilots.  The collective data is essential to understand how plane crashes occur.

(By the way, a “black box” is not black – it is orange.  Federal law requires that they be painted orange so they are easier to find after a crash.)

In an HCLA case discovery dispute, the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled that plaintiff’s testifying experts’ “notes, drafts, and communications with counsel” were discoverable under the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure and that plaintiff had waived any claim that the requested items were privileged.

In Starnes v. Akinlaja, No. E2021-01308-COA-R10-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 2, 2023), plaintiff filed a healthcare liability case against defendants based on injuries that occurred during plaintiff’s c-section. During the deposition of one of plaintiff’s testifying experts, the expert referenced an email sent to plaintiff’s counsel that included a bullet-point list as well as a page of handwritten notes, neither of which had been provided to defendants in response to defendants’ interrogatories, requests for production of documents, or requests accompanying the deposition notice. Defendants filed a motion to compel plaintiff to produce certain documents from her testifying experts, including “correspondence to and from her expert witnesses, draft reports of expert witnesses, and any similar materials.” Plaintiff responded that the documents were protected from discovery, but the trial court ultimately granted the motion to compel, which was affirmed (but modified) on appeal.

In its analysis, the Court initially clarified which Rules of Civil Procedure applied here. Because the experts at issue were identified as testifying experts, Rule 26.02(4)(A) applied to discovery related to these experts. Further, the Court ruled that Rule 26.02(3), which addresses discovery of trial preparation materials, applied, but it clarified that “the requirements of subdivision (3) are subject to those of subdivision (4) for discovery of expert witness information.”

This article by Steven Auvil in the National Law Journal gathers case law supporting the right of the parties to take remote video depositions during the Pandemic.

An excerpt:

In Ogilvie v. Thrifty Payless, the Western District of Washington court denied the parties’ joint motion to extend court deadlines, including the fact discovery deadline, due to the dilatory impact of COVID-19 on the parties’ ability to conduct depositions. After noting the parties’ failure to address the possibility of taking depositions by remote means (and encouraging their use), the court put a sharp point on why the parties needed to resort to such depositions: “This pandemic may well be with us for many months to come. We will all need to adjust to keep litigation moving forward. Unless the parties have explored alternative means to complete discovery, the court does not consider the mere existence of the pandemic as ‘good cause’ for a delay in the case schedule.”

With COVID-19, courts in Tennessee are encouraging rapid adoption of remote video depositions while in-person proceedings are limited.  Remote video depositions provide the opportunity for all litigants and litigators who want the case to progress to its ultimate resolution.

Brandon Bass, an experienced trial lawyer and shareholder in our firm, shares his thoughts about remote video depositions in the following blog post:

Deciding whether to agree to (or push for) a remote video deposition is a case-by-case strategy decision with some intangible factors to consider. The deponent’s demeanor and rapport with the questioning attorney may change, whether positive or negative. Attorneys must be attentive to logistical and technical issues that may be outside the attorney’s comfort zone from past experiences. Delay, on the other hand, costs time in each case and threatens to create a backlog of work to be done later – right as we should be working on the next batch of cases in discovery.

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A party’s failure to supplement its discovery responses or deposition testimony can result in a jury verdict for that party being vacated. For businesses, this duty to supplement may include the testimony of its employees.

In Collier v. Roussis, No. E2016-01591-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 7, 2017), a minor filed suit through his parents for birth injuries “allegedly suffered by plaintiff when his mother had an allergic reaction during labor.” The named defendants were the doctor treating the mother and the hospital where plaintiff was born. Much of the relevant testimony surrounded how and how often plaintiff’s mother’s blood pressure was being monitored, with the medical chart showing two blood pressure readings by a fetal monitor and one by defendant doctor. The trial court directed a verdict for defendants on one issue, and the jury returned a verdict that neither the doctor nor “the nurses employed by the Hospital were” negligent. Plaintiff appealed, citing multiple issues for review.

First, on an issue that ended up being dispositive of the appeal, plaintiff argued that “the trial court erred in allowing previously undisclosed testimony from the nurses, testimony which was inconsistent with the nurses’ earlier deposition testimony.” During their depositions, two nurses who worked for the hospital and treated plaintiff’s mother testified that they had no independent recollection beyond what was in the medical record. Mother’s file only indicated that her blood pressure was recorded three times during the relevant period. At trial, however, both of these nurses testified that counsel for the hospital had shown them pictures that plaintiff’s family took in the hospital room, and that those pictures had caused them to remember additional facts. Specifically, they both testified that the mother’s blood pressure was being monitored by a special machine. One stated that because the machine was in use the mother “was not hypotensive, or we would have treated that,” and another stated the nurses “were continuously glancing over at that…monitor to see what her blood pressure was.” Over plaintiff’s objection, the trial court allowed the new testimony, but the Court of Appeals ruled that this was error and the judgment should be vacated.

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The United States Supreme Court recently analyzed a federal court’s “inherent authority to sanction bad-faith conduct by ordering a litigant to pay the other side’s legal fees,” holding that such an award was “limited to the fees the innocent party incurred solely because of the misconduct.”

In Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Haegger, No. 15-1406, 581 U.S. ____ (April 18, 2017), the Haeger family had sued Goodyear after a Goodyear tire allegedly failed and caused their motorhome to flip over. During the original suit, Goodyear was slow and unresponsive to many of the Haegers’ discovery requests, especially when the Haegers requested internal company tests for the tire at issue. The case eventually settled just before trial. Months later, the Haegers’ attorney noticed a news story indicating that, in a similar suit, Goodyear had disclosed “test results indicating that the tire got unusually hot at highway speeds.” Goodyear subsequently admitted to the attorney that it had withheld information in the Haeger suit.

Because the case had already settled, the district court was limited in its options when addressing Goodyear’s misconduct, and “[a]ll it could do for the Haegers was to order Goodyear to reimburse them for attorney’s fees and costs paid during the suit.” The district court determined that this award could be “comprehensive, covering both expenses that could be causally tied to Goodyear’s misconduct and those that could not.” The district court calculated all the Haegers’ litigation expenses after the very early moment when Goodyear first dishonestly responded to discovery and awarded the Haegers $2.7 million. When explaining its award, the district court stated that while the usual case requires the fees awarded to be causally related to the misconduct, the misconduct in this case “rose to a truly egregious level.” The district court found that the level of misconduct here meant that all attorneys’ fees could be awarded with no need to find a causal link between the fees and the sanctioned party’s conduct.

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In Denton v. Taylor, No. E2015-01726-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 25, 2016), the Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in a car accident case because “plaintiff provided no evidence establishing that the decedent’s negligence caused the accident.”

Plaintiff and the decedent, whose wife was the defendant here, were involved in a car accident in March 2013. Plaintiff could not remember anything about the accident, and the other driver was pronounced dead at the scene. In March 2014, plaintiff filed this negligence action.

Defendant moved for summary judgment fifteen months after the complaint was filed, submitting an affidavit from a sheriff’s deputy who stated that there were no witnesses to the accident and that a review of photographs and other evidence “was not able to determine the point of impact.” Defendant argued that plaintiff could not show that decedent’s alleged negligence had caused the accident. Plaintiff responded, relying on the post-mortem toxicology results that showed that decedent had hydrocodone and hydromorphone in his system.

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The noncompliant Dr. Evans strikes again. For the third time, the Tennessee Court of Appeals heard a case revolving around the exclusion of Dr. Martin Evans as plaintiffs’ standard of care expert due to his failure to provide certain financial documents.

In Buman v. Gibson, No. W2015-00511-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 18, 2016), plaintiffs filed an HCLA claim in July 2011. In September 2012, plaintiffs identified Dr. Evans as their expert witness regarding the applicable standard of care. Dr. Evans was deposed in November 2012, during which he “refused to answer questions regarding his income from medical-legal review.” The trial court granted defendants’ motion to compel discovery on this issue, and on May 30, 2013, the trial court “orally ruled that Dr. Evans was to provide his annual income from medical-legal review from 2005-2011 within thirty days of the entry of the written order.” At that hearing, plaintiffs made an oral motion for additional time to obtain a new expert, and the trial court directed them to file a written motion to that effect. At the hearing, the trial judge stated: “In all candor, I probably will look on your motion with favor.” Following the hearing, however, plaintiffs did not file a written motion to allow time for a new expert. Accordingly, the trial court granted the motion to compel, and when the information was not provided, defendants filed a motion to exclude Dr. Evans and an accompanying motion for summary judgment based on plaintiffs’ lack of a standard of care expert, a requirement for proving an HCLA claim.

In the face of the motion to exclude and motion for summary judgment, plaintiffs still did not mile a motion for time to find a different expert. Instead, plaintiffs responded with a motion to revise that argued about the propriety of allowing discovery of the financial information sought. The court denied the plaintiffs’ motion on November 18, 2013, but gave them additional time to provide the requested financial information.

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The medical community in Tennessee doesn’t want judges and juries to know how much money they make from testifying as expert witnesses.   So they have persuaded two members of the General Assembly to introduce legislation that applies not only to medical doctors but to every type of expert witness.

This is the substance of HB 1466:

Except for good cause shown and pursuant to court order, a party may not discover a statement of compensation that is paid to an expert witness for any study and testimony in a case.

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