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Justices: Excluding expert witness was error by trial court

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Four Indiana justices Friday held that a Montgomery Superior judge erred when he struck the plaintiff’s expert witness in a medical malpractice lawsuit and dismissed the suit under Indiana Trial Rules 37(B) and 41(E).

Sharon and Leslie Wright filed their action against Dr. Anthony Miller and Achilles Podiatry Group in April of 2006, claiming two surgeries performed on Sharon Wright’s feet produced injurious results and a second surgery was performed without consent. A medical review panel found in favor of the defendants.

In an attempt to refute the review panel’s conclusion, the plaintiffs presented an affidavit from Dr. Franklin Nash supporting their claim. The Wrights didn’t include Nash on witness lists submitted to the court, but the defendants were aware he was the designated expert. The Wrights also missed several discovery deadlines and had to find a new expert witness after Nash’s illness prevented him from participating in the August 2010 trial.

In 2011, the defendants sought a dismissal on the grounds the Wrights didn’t comply with discovery deadlines and that they didn’t have an expert witness to rebut the findings of the review panel. Then, the Wrights filed notice of a new expert witness, but the trial court struck the notice as untimely and dismissed the case.

In Sharon Wright and Leslie Wright v. Anthony E. Miller, D.P.M., and Achilles Podiatry Group, 54S01-1207-CT-430, Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote that the factors outlined in Wiseheart v. State, 491 N.E.2d 985 (Ind. 1986), on excluding a witness for discovery violations can be a valuable guide in civil cases but cautioned against a formulaic approach of the factors that may deemphasize the general discretion of the trial court.

The justices found the exclusion of the Wrights’ expert witness was inconsistent with the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances before the court. It’s clear the defendants were aware the plaintiffs intended Nash to be the expert witness and the delay in bringing the case to trial was because of Nash’s illness. The prejudice to the defendants was minimal, but the exclusion had a substantial effect on the Wrights’ ability to present the merits of their case, Dickson wrote. This case warranted lesser sanctions that would not have deprived the Wrights of their ability to present the merits of their case at trial. Because the witness exclusion was an error, the basis for the case dismissal was also an error, the high court ruled.

Justice Steven David agreed in a separate opinion that the entire case should not have been dismissed, but he believed that the Wrights’ expert witness should have remained excluded.

“Without seeking to enter the unsettled arena of whether such an expert witness is required in this type of case, I not only believe the exclusion was an appropriate exercise of the trial court’s discretion here, but I struggle to find a more appropriate sanction with which the trial court could have enforced its discovery deadlines and orders when Wright repeatedly failed to include Dr. Nash on her witness lists, filed those witness lists late (along with other delayed filings), and then failed to meet a discovery deadline that had already been extended at her request,” he wrote.

 

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  1. As one of the many consumers affected by this breach, I found my bank data had been lifted and used to buy over $200 of various merchandise in New York. I did a pretty good job of tracing the purchases to stores around a college campus just from the info on my bank statement. Hm. Mr. Hill, I would like my $200 back! It doesn't belong to the state, in my opinion. Give it back to the consumers affected. I had to freeze my credit and take out data protection, order a new debit card and wait until it arrived. I deserve something for my trouble!

  2. Don't we have bigger issues to concern ourselves with?

  3. Anyone who takes the time to study disciplinary and bar admission cases in Indiana ... much of which is, as a matter of course and by intent, off the record, would have a very difficult time drawing lines that did not take into account things which are not supposed to matter, such as affiliations, associations, associates and the like. Justice Hoosier style is a far departure than what issues in most other parts of North America. (More like Central America, in fact.) See, e.g., http://www.theindianalawyer.com/indiana-attorney-illegally-practicing-in-florida-suspended-for-18-months/PARAMS/article/42200 When while the Indiana court system end the cruel practice of killing prophets of due process and those advocating for blind justice?

  4. Wouldn't this call for an investigation of Government corruption? Chief Justice Loretta Rush, wrote that the case warranted the high court’s review because the method the Indiana Court of Appeals used to reach its decision was “a significant departure from the law.” Specifically, David wrote that the appellate panel ruled after reweighing of the evidence, which is NOT permissible at the appellate level. **But yet, they look the other way while an innocent child was taken by a loving mother who did nothing wrong"

  5. Different rules for different folks....

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