California Court Holds Witness Testimony Should Not Have Been Excluded as Evidentiary Sanction 

In a recent case before the California Court of Appeal, the court addressed whether the trial court properly excluded witness testimony in support of a car accident victim. An evidence sanction was imposed upon the plaintiff for failing to divulge the witness information in response to discovery requests. The court analyzed the exact nature of the witness testimony, since it served the purpose of providing information on the plaintiff’s injuries and difficulties following the accident.

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Karla Mitchell was the plaintiff in a personal injury and property damage lawsuit stemming from a car accident. She filed an action against Ernestine Johnson and Doe defendants, seeking wage loss, loss of use of property, medical bills, property damage, and other damages. Mr. Johnson then propounded form interrogatories upon Ms. Mitchell. In answer to interrogatory No. 12.1, specifically asking for the identification of witnesses to the incident, Ms. Mitchell named one of her children, a passenger in the vehicle.

Ms. Mitchell then identified three witnesses whom she intended to call at trial to testify regarding her physical limitations following the accident.  While none of the three individuals witnessed the event, they intended to describe the impact of Ms. Mitchell’s physical limitations.

In response, Mr. Johnson filed a motion in limine to exclude any witness testimony not previously disclosed in discovery.  He contended that the exclusion of their testimony was an evidence sanction for Ms. Mitchell’s failure to provide the identification of witnesses when responding to interrogatory No. 12.1.  The trial court granted Mr. Johnson’s motion in limine, and the testimony of the three witnesses was excluded at trial.

The appellate court looked at interrogatory No. 12.1 in detail and found that it sought the identities of witnesses who had been at the accident or might have personal knowledge of the accident.  The interrogatory did not seek the identities of witnesses such as those excluded by the trial court:  those intending to testify to the physical injuries suffered by the plaintiff.

Regarding the policy of excluding a party’s witness for a failure to identify the witness in discovery, the court stated that the exclusion is appropriate only if the omission was willful or violated a court order compelling a response.  Even assuming that interrogatory No. 12.1 could be seen as a request for identifying witnesses testifying to post-accident physical disabilities, there had been no evidence that Ms. Mitchell’s failure to identify witnesses was willful, or that she went against a court order to provide discovery.

The court stated it was an error for the lower court to impose an evidence sanction on the grounds that Ms. Mitchell failed to divulge the names of three witnesses in response to interrogatory No. 12.1. The appellate court issued a peremptory writ of mandate vacating the previous order and issuing a new order denying Mr. Johnson’s motion in limine to exclude the testimony of the three witnesses.

At Sharifi Firm, we understand the importance of witness testimony in automobile accident lawsuits, and our skilled car accident attorneys help clients throughout Southern California pursue compensation for their injuries.  We provide a free consultation and can be reached by calling 866-422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Appeals Court Holds Substantial Evidence to Support Contrary Finding Does not Compel Conclusion of Insufficient Evidence Supporting the Judgment, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, December 11, 2015

California Court Upholds Verdict Despite Improper Testimony and Misconduct by Attorney, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, October 28, 201

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