Many obstacles arise in a negligence lawsuit, and defendants will try to use all of them to prevent or minimize liability. Injured parties face evidentiary challenges if witnesses are hard to locate, or physical evidence is compromised. Procedural hurdles also exist, from the timing of the filing to the way in which pleadings are written. In a recent decision, the federal First Circuit Court of Appeal addressed a summary judgment granted in favor of the defendants, based on issues with the injured person’s statement of facts and submitted reports.
The plaintiff was injured in a vehicle collision in 2014. He filed suit against the driver of the tractor trailer and the company that owned the trailer and hired the driver. The injured person alleged the trailer caused a rear-end collision, causing him to lose control of his own vehicle and strike a median.
Upon review, the magistrate judge recommended granting the defendants’ motions to strike the plaintiff’s purported set of facts in his own motion and the opposition to the defendants’ motion. The injured man had included two expert reports attached as exhibits, which were also excluded. The grounds for this recommendation were based on the injured man’s failure to comply with Local Rule 56.1, which requires a filed opposition to motions for summary judgment to be a concise statement of material facts of record. The District Judge adopted the Magistrate Judge’s recommendations and report, entering summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The injured man appealed.
On appeal, the injured man argued his attached reports to the opposition should not have been struck. He reasoned the summary judgment ruling could not stand with those in evidence. The appellate court looked at the history of the case and found the injured man provided the reports to the defendants nearly four months after a deadline was set by the court for expert disclosures. The judge found the delayed reports were neither “harmless” nor “substantially justified,” so they should be struck per the ruling in a prior First Circuit opinion in Macaulay v. Anas. That decision allowed a court to consider five elements before excluding evidence due to a party’s errant behavior, including the history of the litigation, the sanctioned party’s need for the evidence, the justification for the late disclosure, the prejudicial effect on the other party due to the late disclosure, and the effect on the docket. The magistrate judge did not believe the injured man’s repeated failure to follow the discovery obligations should be rewarded by allowing evidence to remain that could potentially assist his lawsuit.
The injured man stated he believed the discovery period was “open-ended,” based on an order postponing a status conference. The appellate court again looked at the history of the case and found the injured man did not disclose experts even after counsel learned the deadline remained. The court agreed with the magistrate judge’s assessment that the injured man should have inquired about the deadline if there had been confusion surrounding its existence. The First Circuit also agreed with the determination that the defendants would have been prejudiced by the reports, since they would have had to withdraw their motion, depose the injured man’s experts, potentially prepare their own experts to testify in rebuttal, and refile the motion for summary judgment.
The appellate court additionally found the substance of the reports did not negate the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The court determined the opinions to be conclusory statements rather than supportive evidence. The circuit court concluded there was no abuse of discretion by the district court in its adoption of the recommendation and finding of summary judgment. The lower court’s decision against the injured man was affirmed.
Understanding the procedural process and following deadlines is essential to success in any Massachusetts personal injury action. The attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the experience you need to professionally litigate your case. For a free, confidential consultation, contact us at 508.822.6600.
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