Category: Trial court

First Circuit Orders Multiple AMOs Without Audio or Video Recording

Defendants often request an AMO (“Additional Medical Opinion,” formerly called “IME”) under La. Code of Civil Procedure article 1464 which grants the courts power to order the examination of a plaintiff’s physical or mental condition when in controversy.   Increasingly, plaintiff’s counsel will object outright to such examinations or seek to impose onerous restrictions designed to limit or prevent the examination. In Sistrunk v. Florida Marine, LLC, et al, 20-0771 (La. App. 1 Cir. 9/28/20), 2020 WL 575645, the First Circuit rejected limitations sought by the plaintiff and imposed by the trial court.

In Sistrunk, the plaintiff alleged brain injury and psychological problems caused by a blow to the head.  In view of the seriousness of the alleged injuries, the defense requested examinations by a neurologist, neuropsychologist, neurosurgeon, and psychiatrist. In response, the plaintiff agreed to examinations but only in areas plaintiff planned to offer medical testimony and under restrictions to include the presence of a third-party and audio or video recording. Although the trial court ordered the AMOs to move forward, it allowed the presence of a third-party who could then audio or videotape the exams.   With respect to the neuropsychological examination, the trial court rejected observation by a third-party based upon industry standards which do not allow for such observation.

The defense in Sistrunk sought review from the First Circuit. Without comment, the First Circuit rejected the condition imposed by the trial court that the exams be captured through audio or videotaping.  Sistrunk joins similar decisions such as Henry v. Barlow, 06-283 (La. App. 3 Cir. 8/9/06), 937 So. 2d. 895 which likewise prevented audio or videotaping of AMOs. In Henry, the court reasoned that the recording of an AMO would restrict the number of physicians willing to participate.


Brian has been doing defense work for the last 28 years. He has handled all types of defense matters over his career, but in recent years his practice has been focused in serious injury or damage cases and has worked extensively with experts involving complex cases, fire cases, and forensic work. 

A Decade Old Article Finds New Life: Televised Testimony

Courts across the country now grapple with the changing face of trials in a time of social distancing and spikes of COVID-19 complicated by the confines of the courtroom. Attorneys and litigants must also adapt to this new “normal.” In this setting, an older law may help to bring new technology into the courtroom.

COVID-19 spawned the immediate use of videoconferencing and other technology in the courtroom. Fortunately, over a decade prior to the current pandemic, the Louisiana Legislature adopted Louisiana Civil Code of Procedure article 1633.1 which expressly provides for live televised testimony at a trial. Pursuant to Article 1633.1:

The court may order, upon a showing of appropriate safeguards, live testimony of a witness to be presented in open court by teleconference, video link, or other visual remote technology, if the witness is beyond the subpoena power of the court or when compelling circumstances are shown. The order may be entered at a pretrial conference or, in exceptional circumstances, on motion set for hearing at least ten days prior to trial or at another time that does not prejudice the parties.

The Article, titled “Live trial testimony by video,” does not limit the live video testimony feature only at trial. Commentary suggests that the term “trial” is intended to include evidentiary hearings on exceptions as well as summary matters. The comments further provide that a showing must be made to the court’s satisfaction of appropriate safeguards, such as (1) reliable transmission procedures and image quality, (2) an orderly process for reference to exhibits by the witness and all counsel or parties conducting the examination, and (3) an absence of any outside influence on the witness during testimony. Even if all the parties agree to the use of live televised testimony, the Article nevertheless requires a court order.

Pursuant to the Article, the court may order televised testimony when “compelling circumstances are shown.” These circumstances may exist where a witness has a pre-existing condition or is restricted from live attendance by their physician.  They may also exist for witnesses barred from work-related travel by their employer.

Although adopted in 2007, Article 1633.1 remains largely unused by both courts and litigants; it appears its time has come.

Google Earth Images Ruled Admissible

Recently, a Louisiana appellate court found that images from Google Earth images were admissible.   In Walker v. S.G.B.C., LLC, 2019-506 (La.App. 3Cir. 2/5/20); — So.3d —, 2020 WL 563818, the Louisiana Third Circuit rejected a challenge to the use of the images on the basis that they were not properly authenticated. 

In this case, the plaintiff sought recognition of a historical servitude of passage from his landlocked property. During the trial, the plaintiff offered Google Earth images of the property to show a gravel pathway on the alleged right of way. The images were dated January 2004, November 2005, and December 2017.  Multiple witnesses identified the path on the images. Thereafter, the trial court admitted the images into evidence over the defendant’s objections.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the images were not properly authenticated under La. C.E. art. 901 because the plaintiff did not: (1) have the creator of the images testify to their authenticity; (2) get a certification from Google that the images were what they purported to be; and (3) have an expert testify that the images were accurate depictions of what they claimed to be.

The Walker court affirmed the trial court ruling that these images were admissible. Louisiana Code of Evidence Article 901(B)(1) provides the testimony of a witness with personal knowledge may supply the authentication of evidence required for its admission. Because the plaintiff identified various landmarks on each image, and each image was subsequently recognized by multiple witnesses (including the defendant’s witnesses), the Court concluded there was sufficient support for finding the images authentic.

In Walker, the precise dates the photographs were taken were not critical. Under different facts, courts may choose to apply the authentication rules of Article 901 more stringently.


Chris Jones is a partner with Keogh Cox in Baton Rouge, LA.  He focuses his practice on class actions and mass torts, and handles these matters in courts throughout the country.  He is a life-long resident of Baton Rouge, where he lives with his wife and four children.

Black Boxes: The Secrets Your Vehicle Keeps

By Brian Butler

Many do not realize modern vehicles are always ready to record critical driving information. As with airplanes, most passenger vehicles are now equipped with Event Data Recorders (EDR), or “Black Boxes.” This information may be critical after an accident to show what happened, and who was at fault.

EDRs may record pre-event data for five seconds before and one second after an accident, possibly including vehicle speed, engine speed, percent throttle, change in velocity, and whether the brakes were applied. The make and model of the vehicle will determine what data is available. If you want this data, you must act quickly because it will be “overwritten” at some point if the vehicle continues in use.

It is also important to retain a competent expert to download the data. In Laborde v. Shelter Mutual Insurance Co., 82 So. 3rd 1237 (La. 3/9/2011), the trial court excluded the printout of data downloaded from a Black Box because of the boxes “chain of custody” and the method the information downloaded.  It is important that your legal team knows how to obtain and preserve this evidence.

Data from Black Boxes can be useful in many ways. In some cases, it may help to prove that the accident involved a low impact or to show that no brakes were applied. In other cases, it may harm your position, but the data is almost always relevant. There are costs in downloading and interpreting the data. But in the right case, the secrets kept in the Black Box may be the only way to reveal the truth.

Brian has been doing defense work for the last 28 years. He has handled all types of defense matters over his career, but in recent years his practice has been focused in serious injury or damage cases and has worked extensively with experts involving complex cases, fire cases, and forensic work. 

Keeping Testimony of Future Medical Expenses “Out of the Gate”

In a recent case involving Keogh Cox attorneys, the Eastern District of Louisiana in Michael Brander, Jr. v. State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. Co., Civ. A. No. 18-982 (Feb. 14, 2019), 2019 WL 636423 barred testimony of substantial projected medical expenses because it was not based on a reliable methodology. This ruling stands to impact many other cases where plaintiffs seek to use far-reaching projections of a life-long need for radiofrequency ablations (“RFAs”) or other pain-management modalities to “board” six and even seven-figure numbers for future medical expenses.  

In Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), the United States Supreme Court recognized the trial judge as the “gatekeeper” of expert opinion testimony and held that only reliable and relevant expert opinions may be admitted.  The reliability requirement serves to keep expert opinions “outside the gate” when they constitute unsupported speculation or mere subjective belief; only scientifically valid expert opinions are allowed inside.  To ascertain whether an expert opinion is scientifically valid, Daubert instructs the trial court to consider:

            ∙           whether the expert’s theory can or has been tested;

            ∙           whether it has been subject to peer review and publication;

            ∙           the known or potential rate of error when applying the theory;

            ∙           applicable standards and controls; and,

            ∙           the degree to which the theory has been generally accepted in the scientific community.

In Brander, the plaintiff advanced medical testimony that he would need RFAs every year of his expected lifetime, a period of 36 years. The court disallowed the testimony, noting that the plaintiff’s physicians had less than ten years personal experience in administering RFAs to patients, the medical literature only considered the effectiveness of RFAs over a span of seven to ten years, and there was no showing that the 36-year treatment plan was in general acceptance by the medical community.  According to the court, the expert opinions offered by plaintiff failed Daubert “on all points.” As a result, the plaintiff was permitted to introduce testimony of future RFAs for only a seven-year period. 

The reasoning of Brander may be equally applicable to projections of lifetime treatment involving other medical procedures, such as medial branch blocks, Botox injections, or spinal cord stimulators, for which the long-term efficacy has not been firmly established in the medical literature. Opinions unsupported by personal treatment experience and peer-reviewed medical studies are not scientifically valid and are properly halted “at the gate.”

Nancy B. Gilbert is a partner with Keogh Cox in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  She is a puzzle-solver by nature, and specializes in providing clear and in-depth analysis of complex litigation issues.  

You’ve Been Served – Now What? Understanding “Louisiana’s Pre-trial Procedure”

A deputy arrives at your home or office and announces that you have been served. You quickly realize you have been named as a defendant in a lawsuit. Now what?

Whether the suit involves a breach of contract, an automobile accident, or the one and a million other circumstances that can lead to a suit being filed, the process is essentially the same in Louisiana state courts. This blog provides a general roadmap of Louisiana’s “pre-trial” procedure, which applies in most situations. Different procedures are involved with workers’ compensation claims, administrative proceedings, medical malpractice claims, and other areas.

Petition/Answer – When a person or company believes they have been damaged by fault, breach, or neglect, Louisiana law provides that the person allegedly wronged, the plaintiff, may file a Petition for Damages.  Louisiana does not have a “loser pays” system. For this reason, there is little disincentive to a plaintiff who wants to sue. Once the Petition is filed with the Clerk of Court, the Sheriff serves the defendant with a certified copy of the Petition and the “Citation.”

A defendant has fifteen days to file an Answer or to secure an extension from either the plaintiff attorney or the Judge, by filing a Motion for Extension of Time to File Responsive Pleadings. A failure to respond to a suit or obtain an extension within 15 days of service may result in a default judgment.

Trial by Judge or Jury -The parties advise if they desire a judge or jury trial in the initial filings. There is no right to a jury in cases which do not have a possible value of more than $50,000. If a plaintiff “stipulates” that case value is at or below $50,000, the defendant has no right to demand a jury trial under Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 1732.

Exceptions – Defendants have the right to raise “exceptions” to the suit. Common exceptions include a claim that the suit is vague; is filed in the wrong venue (i.e., the wrong location); or is untimely, and therefore “prescribed.” Defendants can use the exception process to challenge the plaintiff’s legal ability to recover. Many exceptions are waived if they are not filed before or with the Answer.

Discovery

  • Written – After the Answer is filed, the discovery process typically begins. Discovery is an information-gathering process done through different methods.  The parties to a lawsuit may issue written Interrogatories, Requests for Admission, and Requests for Production of Documents.
  • Depositions – Depositions are a key component of discovery. A deposition allows the attorneys (or the parties themselves, if unrepresented) to ask questions of witnesses before a court reporter. The testimony is taken under oath and can be used later for certain purposes. For example, if the witness is not available to testify at trial, the deposition testimony can often be introduced in lieu of live testimony. Also, if a witness changes his testimony at trial, the deposition can be used to attack the testimony and credibility of the witness.

Case Deadlines – Typically, the court will establish a scheduling order to establish key dates such as deadlines to identify witnesses, exhibits, and any experts who may testify on behalf of the parties. The court often sets a deadline to file “dispositive” motions, such as motions for summary judgment where the plaintiff or the defendant tries to have the case determined before the trial.

Alternative Dispute Resolution – Frequently, the parties agree to attempt to mediate the case with the assistance of a mediator.  This is a voluntary process. In some cases, the parties will be bound by an agreement to arbitrate which will be conducted outside of the normal court process.

There is no law or statute which sets the time frame for the “pre-trial” process. Depending upon the complexity of the suit, the pre-trial phase of a suit may take months, and often years.

Grounds for Appeal: Preparing for Round Two

Lawsuits begin in the trial court. For that reason, the immediate focus remains in the trial court where the case will be decided by the jury or the trial judge. However, once the judgment is entered or the verdict reached, the focus quickly shifts to the appeals court. In many cases, what happens in the trial court is just “round one” and cases are often truly decided on appeal. This post will help to identify the types of issues considered when there is an appeal.