Personal injury lawyers must carefully follow the many rules that apply to pre-trial discovery. Failure to do so can have drastic consequences. Consider the following case, where a seemingly small mistake turned a judgment for the defendant in the amount of nearly $18,000 into a judgment against the defendant in the amount of over $24,000.
Granville v. Howard
In March 2008, John Granville’s truck was rear-ended by a car driven by Vince Leroy Howard. Howard had been driving slowly, but Granville claimed that he was injured in the collision. He saw a chiropractor, who treated him at a cost of $4,745.05.
In October, Granville sued Howard. Howard admitted that he had been negligent, but said Granville wasn’t injured in the low-speed accident. The case was first sent to arbitration. The arbitrator awarded Granville $6,719.45. Howard appealed to the Superior Court in Maricopa County, and the case went to trial.
At trial, Howard called Dr. Stephen Brown as an expert witness. Brown was an orthopedic surgeon who testified that Granville was not injured in the accident and needed no care. Brown also testified that he would expect someone with past medical problems like Granville’s to have suffered from continuing symptoms prior to the 2008 accident. But there was a problem with this latter testimony: Howard’s personal injury lawyer had not explicitly disclosed Brown’s opinion on this question prior to trial, as the discovery rules require. Granville objected to the testimony, but the trial court allowed it.
At the end of the trial, the jury returned a verdict for Howard, awarding Granville nothing. The trial court entered judgment against Granville for a total of $17,885.50 for Howard’s court costs and expert witness fees.
Granville appealed. The Court of Appeals rejected all of Granville’s arguments but one. As noted above, Howard’s personal injury attorney failed to explicitly disclose one part of Dr. Brown’s expert testimony before trial. The Court of Appeals found that this violated Arizona’s discovery rules, and that Granville was entitled to a new trial because of this error.
After the new trial in 2013, the jury awarded Granville $918.50 in damages. The trial court also ordered Howard to pay an additional $23,727.90 for Granville’s costs, expert witness fees, and attorney’s fees.
Significantly, Howard had provided Dr. Brown’s expert report to Granville before trial, but that report did not explicitly state Brown’s opinion on Granville’s medical history. This seemingly simple mistake was enough for the Court of Appeals to vacate the trial court’s original judgment and order a new trial. The lesson for personal injury attorneys is to follow the pre-trial discovery rules precisely, lest your client end up like Howard.
There’s also an important lesson here for clients: trial always involves risks. Losing in arbitration didn’t prevent Howard from winning in the first trial, and winning in the first trial didn’t prevent him from losing in the second. The parties to a lawsuit should always take the risks of trial seriously, not discounting them based on past experiences.
About the author
David Hameroff is an experienced personal injury attorney in Tucson. If you sustain injuries due to dog bites or a dog attack, call our Tucson office at (520) 792-4700 to discuss the elements of your case.