Rhonda v. Weathers Talks About Discovery Requests in an Indiana Personal Injury Cases

March 15, 2012

Tactical decisions in an Highland personal injury case are usually the responsibility of your attorney after consultation with you the client. Knowing all the rules is impossible when you are concentrating on recovering from your injuries. Our experienced and knowledgeable Indiana attorneys can help give you the peace of mind you deserve.
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In Rhonda v. Weathers there was a car accident which resulted in litigation. The plaintiff sued the defendant claiming that the defendant had been negligent in his operation of his motor vehicle.

When there is a lawsuit for negligence in a personal injury case, the plaintiff is responsible for proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant breached their duty of care. The plaintiff has the burden of providing this to the court with evidence and with arguments surrounding every specific legal element of the negligence claim.

When cases begin, there is a period called discovery. During this period, parties have the opportunity to depose witnesses, file Requests for Production of crucial evidence, Requests for Admissions, and some parties may even decide to settle after receiving all the information on their case.

Although most personal injury cases do settle many do continue on to trial. Understanding the costs and benefits of both settling and trial is a crucial part of the legal process.

It was during this discovery period that the conflict in Rhonda v. Weather became complicated. Rhonda's attorney received medical bills from the plaintiff and sent a Request for Admissions to the defendant. A request for admissions is a series of questions that one party asks another in order to establish which facts will be disputed in the trial.

Rhonda's attorney sent the defendant copies of Rhonda's medical bills and asked the defendant to authenticate that the bills were in fact medical bills for the plaintiff's injuries sustained because of the car accident between the two parties. Upon receipt of this Request for Admissions, Weathers responded that he was unable to verify that the documents were of the character alleged, as he had no way of authenticating them himself.

At the time that the plaintiff's attorney moved to enter the records into evidence, the defendant's attorney never objected. This led the plaintiff's counsel to argue that the defendant strategically did not answer the questions in the Request for Admissions because he wanted to prolong the time leading up to trial, and create more expenses for the plaintiff.

The plaintiff cited the Mississippi statute that addresses this situation and says a moving party may request the non-moving party pay reasonable legal expenses where the party fails to agree with the truthfulness of a document but later accents to it.

The jury in the trial court that heard this case found that the plaintiff did not meet her burden of proof and granted a verdict for the defendant. This court also rejected the request for sanctions to be imposed on the defendant. Rhonda disagreed with this holding, and appealed to the Supreme Court of Mississippi. The defendant promptly filed a writ of certiorari asking the state Supreme Court to instruct the lower court to look over the facts of only the sanctions involved in this case again.

The main issue was whether the defendant can be charged with sanctions for failing to respond to the Request for Admissions regarding medical records where there was no objection to the entry of those records during trial.

This question is contingent on the state evidence code and the classification of business records and medical records. The court here found that in order for a medical record to be admissible in court without the testimony of a custodian or qualified witness, the document must be self- authenticating. In order for the document to be self-authenticating the record must be accompanied with a "written declaration under oath."

Because the medical records were not self- authenticating, the defendant had no way to verify their validity; therefore, he cannot be subject to sanctions for a failure on the part of plaintiff's attorney.

This case shows how important it is to have a skilled attorney fighting for you to help you get the results to which you are entitled, regardless of the complexity of law.

If you have been injured contact Indiana injury Attorneys at Padove Law to schedule your free appointment. Call 219-836-2200.