In a recent written opinion, a California appellate court discussed when evidence from an expert witness who is not on a party’s expert-witness list can be considered in a personal injury claim. According to the court’s opinion, in 2013 the plaintiff was an incarcerated in a county jail and was taken to and from court on a county bus. The plaintiff testified at trial that the bus hit a beam while parking, causing the inmate to whom the plaintiff was chained to sway, ultimately pulling the plaintiff off of his seat and onto the floor of the bus. A videotaped interview after the accident showed the plaintiff saying clearly that he was not injured in this accident, but the plaintiff asserts that shortly after the interview he began to feel pain. According to the plaintiff, this injury required he see both a doctor and a chiropractor regularly, amassing significant medical bills.
At trial, the plaintiff’s doctor testified that he believed the plaintiff’s injuries stemmed from the 2013 bus accident, and that the plaintiff required future surgery, estimated at around $90,000. The defendant county called another doctor as an expert witness to testify, but this doctor was not on their list of expert witnesses submitted to the court. Under California law, he was allowed to testify, but only in order to “impeach” the evidence of the plaintiff’s doctor. Impeachment testimony is permissible if it focuses on negating a specific fact used by another party’s witness to draw their conclusion. However, impeachment testimony cannot be simply used as pretext for offering a contrary opinion. The defendant’s added witness testified, stating that the plaintiff’s doctor had reached the wrong conclusion and misunderstood or misapplied medical science. At the end of trial, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff but awarding him far less damages than he sought, seeming to rely on the defendant’s expert witness’s testimony undercutting the plaintiff’s doctor.
The plaintiff appealed the verdict, in part arguing that the defendant’s expert witness’s testimony was beyond the scope of permissible impeachment and should not have been considered. The appellate court agreed, finding that the defendant’s witness, when discussing the plaintiff’s doctor testimony, did not aim to negate or deny a specific fact used by the doctor. Instead, according to the court, the defendant’s doctor offered his own, contrary opinion, which went beyond the scope of permissible impeachment. As such, the jury should not have been allowed to consider the testimony, and the court remanded the case for a new trial.