California’s evidentiary rules have changed. As of January 1, 2024, defense expert testimony in medical causation cases is subject to a higher threshold.
The role of juries in adjudicating cases has long been the subject of consternation and debate by those in the legal system. In civil jury trials, the jury acts as the fact-finder and must determine the proper level of liability (and where applicable, damages) to assign the defendant. Much psychological research has focused on how to craft trial procedures to assist juries with this complex task. For example, providing juries with both preliminary and final jury instructions has been found to improve decision-making processes and trial outcomes by giving jurors a cognitive framework to assess the evidence presented at trial. Other studies have observed that simplifying jury instructions, as well as allowing jurors to take notes and ask questions, can improve both juror comprehension and satisfaction. But how do jurors come to a verdict once they are sent to deliberate?
Last year, we previewed impending changes to the federal rule that governs the admissibility of expert testimony: Federal Rule of Evidence (FRE) 702. Since our last blog post on this topic, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court approved those amendments. And as of December 1, the amendments are in effect. Amended FRE 702 now reads:
It’s no secret: plaintiffs’ attorneys want to win big. Using reptile theory, plaintiffs (and their counsel) are enjoying gargantuan jury verdicts. Through thoughtful and strategic lawyering, however, the harsh effects of reptile theory can be avoided.
When product liability actions involving one or more common issues of fact (e.g., an allegedly harmful product or chemical) are filed in multiple jurisdictions, they are typically consolidated for pretrial proceedings in a multidistrict litigation (MDL). 28 U.S.C. § 1407(a). In an MDL, the lawsuits are transferred from their filing courts to a single “transferee” Court (the MDL Court) chosen by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML). The purposes of this centralization are to avoid duplication of discovery, to prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings, and to conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary. For example, overarching issues of law, such as preemption admissibility of common-issue expert opinions, are often resolved by the MDL Court instead of needing to be re-litigated in several different courts. Additionally, MDL Courts can hold bellwether trials to help the parties structure a global settlement process to resolve many or all of the filed cases.
Addressing an issue of first impression, and one that is becoming increasingly important as the legal industry has become more comfortable with and dependent on video conference technology in the aftermath of the pandemic, the Ninth Circuit has ruled that the 100-mile limitation under Rule 45(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure applies to remote testimony.
In In re John Kirkland, et al. v. USBC, Los Angeles, the petitioners, Mr. and Mrs. Kirkland who resided in California before relocating to the U.S. Virgin Islands, moved to quash subpoenas commanding them to testify via video conference at a trial before a bankruptcy court in the Central District of California. The bankruptcy court denied the motions finding that “good cause and compelling circumstances” existed to warrant the petitioners’ remote testimony pursuant to Rule 43(a), which provides that “[a]t trial, the witnesses’ testimony must be taken in open court unless a federal statute, the Federal Rules of Evidence, these rules, or other rules adopted by the Supreme Court provide otherwise[; and f]or good cause in compelling circumstances and with appropriate safeguards, the court may permit testimony in open court by contemporaneous transmission from a different location.” The bankruptcy court also concluded that Rule 45(c)’s “place of compliance” should be based on where a witness is located as requiring a witness to testify remotely from the witness’s home is not contrary to the purpose of Rule 45(c), which is to protect witnesses from the burden of having to travel extensively to testify at a trial or other proceeding.
A three-way circuit split has long plagued the realm of attorney-client privilege on how to treat communications that implicate both legal and non-legal concerns (known as “dual-purpose communications”). Namely, if a lawyer communicates with their client, simultaneously providing legal advice and business advice, is the entire communication protected by the attorney-client privilege? How substantial must the legal advice be for the communication to be privileged? The Supreme Court recently had the opportunity to resolve this split, but in a strange turn of events, dismissed the previously granted writ of certiorari as improvidently granted two weeks after hearing oral argument. Before delving into the oral argument and subsequent dismissal by the Supreme Court, it is worth reviewing a brief history of the existing circuit split.
Last month, the Advisory Committee on Evidence of the Judicial Conference of the United States’ Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure voted to unanimously to recommend certain amendments to Federal Rule of Evidence 702, which governs the admissibility of expert witness testimony. This vote signals imminent changes that could significantly affect federal practitioners’ requirements to demonstrate their experts’ reliability.