Federal Massachusetts Decision Demonstrates the Importance of Following Deadlines in Negligence Cases

In all civil lawsuits, parties are obligated to follow the deadlines set by the court. Missing a deadline can have serious consequences, resulting in either the dismissal of your case if you’re the plaintiff or a judgment entered in favor of the plaintiff if you’re the defendant. A recent Massachusetts personal injury action is an example of the consequences injured parties face.

In this case, the injured parties filed suit against a “big box” store’s pharmacy, alleging it had filled a prescription with a dosage 10 times higher than prescribed. The patient alleged that when he took these pills over a four-day period in 2009, he suffered renal failure and other physical issues. The injured patient sought damages for his hospital and medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. His wife also filed suit for loss of consortium and lost wages.

As the proceedings moved forward, the district court set a deadline of July 1, 2015 for the plaintiffs’ expert witness disclosures, or the list of people they intended to call to testify as experts in the relevant field. The injured person missed this deadline, and the defendant pharmacy moved to prevent the plaintiffs from offering any expert testimony. The court provided the couple with an extension, moving the deadline to December 21, 2015. With the extension, the injured parties provided the name of one doctor as a prospective witness but failed to include a report by the doctor to the defendant, as required by the pretrial order. No other prospective experts were named.

The judge allowed the plaintiffs an opportunity to furnish the named expert’s report but granted the defendant’s previous motion to preclude anyone else from providing expert testimony. The injured parties missed the extension to provide the report but were given a final deadline of February 9, 2016. The report was provided during this period. Since the plaintiffs were prevented from offering more than the lone expert’s testimony to show the defendant pharmacy was negligent, the defendants moved for summary judgment, which was granted. The injured couple appealed.

The circuit court was not persuaded by the plaintiffs’ appellate argument. The court saw no merit in their claim that the witnesses were improperly excluded from testifying. The appellate court found no abuse of discretion in the district court’s determination. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(2) lays out the guidelines for extensive pretrial disclosures for expert witnesses and expert testimony. Failing to follow the applicable procedural rules is done at the party’s risk. Prior case law has already determined preclusion to be the correct response when deadline violations occur. While such serious consequences must be bolstered by a robust justification, the appellate court felt a justification was present here. The circuit court found the lower court was extremely patient with the plaintiffs’ continuing disregard for the deadlines. The plaintiffs were provided several opportunities to comply with the reasonable timelines offered by the court, but they did not take advantage of the district court’s grace.

The circuit court also agreed with the summary judgment issued based on the lack of evidence. The injured parties needed to show the husband’s ingestion of the wrong dosage led to the renal failure and other medical complications. Since the plaintiffs could not call a medical expert regarding the causation of the injury, they were unable to make a genuine issue of material fact with respect to causation. The district court’s order of dismissal was affirmed.

The experienced Massachusetts personal injury attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan know it is necessary to meet all of the deadlines issued by the court so that an injured person can hold the negligent party accountable and obtain the needed financial damages. Call our office today for a free, confidential consultation at 508-822-6600.

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