Last Call On Evidence: Rules of Discovery
In Gi v. Dugar decided August 11, 2014 by the Appellate Division, the case involved a head-on car accident between a plaintiff and defendant. On appeal the plaintiff claimed that the trial court erred in declining to consider an expert report from her doctor because it was submitted after discovery had ended. Discovery is the process in which attorneys collect evidence, issue subpoenas, conduct depositions, respond to interrogatories and generally build their case. Because the case was a Track II verbal threshold case the time for discovery was 300 days pursuant to R. 4:24-1(a). This was extended by 60 days to 360 days.
The defendants moved for summary judgment and nine days before the summary judgment argument the plaintiff tried to enter the expert report into evidence via amending her interrogatory answers to include it. This was rejected by the trial court and has been affirmed by the Appellate Division because it was untimely. A late amendment to an interrogatory response is only permitted if the party seeking the amendment can certify that the evidence was not reasonable available during the discovery period. If a party wants a longer discovery period the way to achieve it is through a timely motion.
Importance of Discovery Timelines
To a laymen it may seem petty or even unfair that potentially result-changing evidence should be barred just because it was entered outside of the discovery period. But, if courts allowed such behavior this would substantially slow down the litigation process which in turn would slow down the ability for plaintiffs to see the awards of damages or defendants the ability to be free from a time-consuming case. Discovery timelines insure that disputes are resolved expeditiously. Furthermore it would not suit justice for courts to encourage parties to strategically withhold reports and other evidence only to enter them when it best serves them. The point of discovery is to allow each side to adequately build a strategy for their case based on transparency of evidence.