It is no secret that evidence and witness testimony are arguably the two most important aspects of injury litigation and the impact that each has on the outcome of an adjudication can either make or break your case. In order to understand these effects more fully, it is important to note that there is a difference between an ordinary and an expert witness. Ordinary, factual witnesses provide knowledgeable accounts of the facts of the case through either their direct participation or observation of the intricacies of the case, whereas expert witnesses hold specialized knowledge in a particular educational field and use this advanced knowledge to clarify or explain a piece of information. Ordinary and expert witnesses are viewed differently in the eyes of the court system and are governed under separate sections in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure due to this distinction.
Unlike an ordinary witness, an expert witness is only permitted to testify at trial once an expert report has been filed with the opposing party. This is necessary to alleviate any future misunderstandings concerning the nature and purpose of the expert’s review and this extra measure fosters preparation, awareness and allows the parties to put their best foot forward during trial. Harmon v. Georgia Gulf Lake Charles, LLC, a recent opinion handed down from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, illustrates the importance of complying with the mandatory standards regarding expert witnesses and the permissibility of their testimony and how not doing so can cause a party to conclude that it has insufficient evidence upon which to proceed to trial. This case involved injuries caused by an industrial accident in Westlake, Louisiana.
In this case, the Court held that Harmon did not properly comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2)(B) and therefore, it decided to uphold the exclusion of imperative expert testimony. In 2006 and 2007, Ms. Harmon and four others claimed to have been injured when toxic chemicals were released into the air due to a fire and an explosion at the Georgia Gulf’s chemical facility in Westlake, Louisiana. Before trial was set to begin, the magistrate entered an order requiring Ms. Harmon and the other four plaintiffs, respectively, to provide an expert report within a timely manner for each expert witness to both Georgia Gulf Lake Charles L.L.C. and American International Specialty Lines Insurance Company.
Before the deadline, Ms. Harmon and plaintiffs filed what purported to be their expert reports. In particular, they filed a two-page letter discussing some of the plaintiffs’ medical records and then a three-page memorandum signed by two physicians. After the deadline had passed, plaintiffs submitted three documents with additional information to supplement the already filed expert reports. Georgia Gulf and American International both filed motions to the court attempting to exclude the reports, alleging that they failed to comply with the requirements of expert reports under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2)(B).
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2)(B) requires that expert reports must contain the following:
(1) “a complete statement of all opinions the witness will express and the basis and reasons for them”; (2) “the facts or data considered by the witness in forming them”; (3) “any exhibits that will be used to summarize or support them”; (4) “the witness’s qualifications . . .”; (5) a list of cases in which the expert testified during the previous four years; and (6) a statement of the compensation received by the expert for his study and testimony.
Both the District Court and the Appellate Court found that plaintiffs initial expert reports fell short of meeting these criteria and further provided citation to a case (Metro Ford Truck Sales, Inc. v. Ford Motor Co.), decided in 1998, to suggest that the supplementary provisions submitted after the deadline “ … are not intended to provide an extension of the expert designation and report production deadline.” Based upon this decision, plaintiffs were forced to concede that they could not prove their case without this expert testimony and that they had insufficient evidence upon which to proceed to trial.
Because procedural matters such as require detailed and meticulous consideration and can ultimately affect the outcome of a case, it is essential to have legal representation that is able to provide both competence and diligence for you.
If you are looking for representation of this kind, contact the Berniard Law Firm, providing methodical, step-by-step review of procedural matters and facts to make sure the proper ruling is found.