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Noyes: A short phone call can change the dynamic of a case

May 7, 2014
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Indiana Lawyer Focus

By Jon Noyes

During the summer of last year, I was supporting litigation in a rather unfortunate product liability case. The product at issue had exploded into our client’s face, but the explosion caused the product to shatter into pieces so tiny that only a small portion could be recovered. The rest of the product turned to dust. As time pressed on, it became painfully clear that we simply did not possess enough of the recovered product for our expert to complete the testing he needed to opine that the product was defective. After all, there cannot be a product liability case without a product.

noyes Noyes

It was only after going back to the drawing board that we found a solution. In initial interrogatories, we asked the defendant whether there had been any other complaints of the same type of product exploding during use. As it turned out, there were two. I entered the individuals’ names into the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system hoping that there would be something, anything, giving us a lead as to where to go next. Luckily, one of the other individuals filed suit against the same defendant in another district.

I called the plaintiff’s attorney on the other case hoping to trade some ideas on moving forward. The attorney was also faced with the problem of a disintegrating product, but had found an expert with the specialized knowledge required to render an opinion. He had even deposed one of the defendants. The attorney gave me the name of his expert, we traded non-protected information, and I directed him to some cases useful in defeating an oncoming dispositive motion. Our firm got in touch with the expert and hired him. The rest is history.

The point of this story is that a challenging issue can often be resolved by simply communicating with an attorney that has encountered the same issue or something similar in the past. All it takes is picking up the phone and making the call. Attorneys who have experienced these tough issues can help with propounding targeted discovery seeking seemingly elusive documents, providing deposition transcripts of adversarial parties and their experts, forming legal arguments, and finding useful cases or briefs needed to win motion practice. These attorneys may also have the added value of hindsight if the issue was disposed of in their case.

Most importantly, it never hurts to hear someone else’s perspective on similar issues. Another attorney may be analyzing similar factual and legal issues, but have a different perspective regarding the best way to move forward. Hearing the attorney’s perspective and adding your own to the discussion helps both parties round out strengths and weaknesses of their respective cases. In fact, it can be a cost-effective and efficient form of litigation support.

There are a number of ways to make use of other attorneys in this way. Listservs are the most obvious medium. They often draw from large pools of attorneys and can cover issues ranging from broad litigation strategy to specialized bodies of law. However, Listservs are only as strong as their members. If the majority of the members are active, then Listservs can thrive. If the majority of members are inactive, or relegate Listserv emails to a rarely visited folder, then its utility can diminish greatly. Moreover, although a Listserv email can provide some insight into a difficult issue, a personal conversation may be a more productive medium for a fluid exchange of ideas.

A combined use of discovery and electronic court records is another way to track down support. Interrogatories requesting the names of other complainants, or captions of other cases, concerning similar issues provide a cost-effective means of securing this information. However, opposing parties are often reluctant to provide this information and, in fact, may object on relevance grounds. For individuals and smaller businesses, a quick search on Odyssey or PACER may also prove fruitful. These references allow attorneys to see whether an opposing party is involved in any other lawsuits in participating Indiana counties or at the federal level. PACER is especially helpful because it also allows individuals to conveniently download documents from a case’s docket at a reasonable cost.

These methods make for great jumping-off points, but the onus is on the attorney to make the phone call. After all, the practice of law is, at its heart, a social profession that builds from communications with others. We use authority and communications with our clients and witnesses to make arguments to the court and our adversaries. Opinions are crafted and settlements are agreed on from those arguments; the former become new authority. Other attorneys then use that new authority and the cycle continues. Networking with other attorneys on substantive issues is a natural extension of this cycle as it allows us to broaden our base of communication and, in doing so, better serve our clients. All it takes is some elbow grease and a phone call.•

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Jon Noyes earned his J.D., cum laude, from the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in 2013. Jon joined Wilson Kehoe Winingham as an associate attorney in 2013. The opinions expressed are those of the author.
 

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  1. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

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