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Justices disagree about evidence issue

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Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard didn't agree with his colleagues' decision that a defendant couldn't introduce evidence to dispute the judgment of an injured plaintiff's medical providers in choosing certain treatment.

In his concurring-in-result opinion, the chief justice believed the holding that a responding party is barred from challenging whether bills submitted in accordance with Evidence Rule 413 actually reflect reasonable and necessary treatment will create issues when ruling whether the expenses were reasonable and necessary.

"... the breadth of today's ruling will lead future judges and juries to work injustices at the very moment when judgment is most needed to hold to account providers at the edge of reasonably necessary treatment, or beyond it," he wrote to explain why he declined to join in the "Sibbing rule" created by the other justices.

In Eric P. Sibbing v. Amanda N. Cave, No. 49S02-0906-CV-275, Eric Sibbing argued that the trial court erred in allowing Amanda Cave to testify about what she was told by her treating physician and her own beliefs on the cause of her pain; and by excluding medical-necessity evidence from Sibbing's expert witness. Sibbing rear ended Cave's car, injuring her. She sought treatment first from Dr. Muhammad Saquib at a medical clinic and later received treatment from Dr. Ronald Sheppard at a chiropractic practice.

Cave claimed portions of testimony by Sibbing's expert witness were properly excluded because they were contrary to Whitaker v. Kruse, 495 N.E.2d 223 (Ind. Ct. App. 1986). Sibbing contended if Whitaker is applicable, then a defendant wouldn't ever be able to refute a plaintiff's claim that medical bills were reasonable and necessary.

The justices held that the phrase "reasonable and necessary," as a qualification for damages recoverable by an injured party, means that the amount of medical expense claimed must be reasonable, and 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. They also held the rule in Whitaker is a correct application of the "scope of liability" component of proximate cause.

Sibbing didn't assert that Cave failed to show, but for the collision, the challenged treatment would not have occurred. Instead, Sibbing challenged the medical judgment of Cave's doctors in choosing to administer the questioned treatment, which he can't do, the majority of justices concluded.

The justices unanimously agreed that Cave's testimony about what Saquib told her about her injuries should not have been admitted under Indiana Evidence Rule 803(4). They disagreed with and disapproved of the holding in Coffey v. Coffey, 649 N.E.2d 1074 (Ind. Ct. App. 1995), in which the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded a letter from a doctor regarding a husband's diagnosis, treatment, and inability to work fell within Rule 803(4), and allowed it to be admitted.

"While Rule 803(4) does not expressly identify which declarants' medical statements are intended to be treated as a hearsay rule exception, we hold that the Rule is intended and should apply only to statements made by persons who are seeking medical diagnosis or treatment," wrote Justice Brent Dickson.

As such, Cave's testimony should have been excluded because it didn't qualify as an exception to the hearsay rule. But the admission was cumulative, didn't affect Sibbing's substantial rights, and doesn't require reversal because of the substantial medical confirmation provided through medical records and other testimony admitted without objection.

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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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