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Smith v Goenka (COA - UNP 1/7/2021; RB #4205)

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Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket # 347127; Unpublished
Judges Stephens, Sawyer, and Beckering; per curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion


STATUTORY INDEXING:
Causation Issue [3135]
Evidentiary Issues [3135]

TOPICAL INDEXING:
Not Applicable


SUMMARY:
In this unanimous unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of the plaintiff’s motion for new trial.  In so holding, the Court of Appeals reasoned that jury verdict that the plaintiff’s injuries were not caused by the accident was not inconsistent with or unsubstantiated by the evidence.  The Court of Appeals also ruled that the trial court had not abused its discretion in allowing the admissibility of the determination of the Social Security Administration that plaintiff was not disabled.  The Court of Appeals also upheld the trial court’s ruling denying the plaintiff’s motion to produce the 1099 forms of the defense medical expert.

This case arose from a motor vehicle accident in which Plaintiff alleged that he suffered injuries to his back and left shoulder as a result. At trial, the jury determined that the Plaintiff had indeed been injured, but that his injuries were not caused by the motor vehicle accident. Thus, the trial court entered a judgment of no cause of action against Plaintiff.

On appeal, Plaintiff argued that he was entitled to a new trial because the jury’s verdict was “inconsistent and not substantiated by the evidence.” The Michigan Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that Defendants at trial had presented evidence that Plaintiff’s injuries predated the accident and that while Plaintiff’s doctors testified otherwise, “this was a factual question for the jury to resolve . . . [j]ust because the jury resolved this question in favor of the defendant does not make the verdict against the great weight of the evidence.”

Plaintiff next argued that he was entitled to a new trial because the trial court had improperly admitted evidence of the Social Security Administration’s determination that Plaintiff was not disabled. The Court again disagreed, finding that “[w]hether Plaintiff was considered ‘disabled’ had no bearing on the jury’s determination of what caused his (disabling or nondisabling) injuries.”

Plaintiff’s final argument was that the trial court erroneously denied his motion to compel Exam Works to produce IRS 1099 forms for defense expert, Dr. Miles Singer, and erroneously granted Defendants’ motion to quash. Again, the Court disagreed, finding that “because the ordering or other forms of discovery is permissive [under MCR 2.302(B)(4)(a)(iii)], the trial court was not required to compel the disclosure of Dr. Singer’s financial documents.  The Court of Appeals remarked that the  trial court’s order was eminently reasonable because instead of a blanket denial of plaintiff’s motion to compel the production of those financial documents, the trial court stated that it would reconsider its ruling if any of the experts were ‘intentionally evasive.’ Because the trial court did not foreclose the possibility of plaintiff being able to obtain the sought-after financial documents, the Court of Appeals determined the trial court’s order was consistent with Michigan Court Rules and did not constitute an abuse of discretion.  In this regard, the Court of Appeals stated:

"In dedicating a separate subrule, MCR 2.302(B)(4), for discovery related to experts, experts essentially are considered a special class of nonparties. These specific rules take precedence over the more general rules of discovery. See Slater v Ann Arbor Pub Sch Bd of Ed, 250 Mich App 419, 434-435; 648 NW2d 205 (2002) (stating that specific provisions control over general provisions). Thus, discovery of expert witnesses generally may only be conducted through deposition. MCR 2.302(B)(4)(a)(ii). However, MCR 2.302(B)(4)(a)(iii) states that a 'court may order further discovery by other means,' but the rule is permissive. See Walters v Nadell, 481 Mich 377, 383; 751 NW2d 431 (2008) (stating that the word 'may' typically denotes permissive activity). Thus, because the ordering of other forms of discovery is permissive, the trial court was not required to compel the disclosure of Dr. Singer’s financial documents. The trial court’s order was eminently reasonable. Instead of a blanket denial of plaintiff’s motion to compel the production of those financial documents, the trial court stated that it would reconsider its ruling if any of the experts were 'intentionally evasive.' Because the trial court did not foreclose the possibility of plaintiff being able to obtain the sought-after financial documents, we cannot see how the trial court abused its discretion. If plaintiff was not satisfied after taking Dr. Singer’s deposition, he could have accepted the court’s invitation to revisit the issue, but he did not."

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