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Posts Tagged ‘Discovery’

Ready Camera One: Remote Litigation in the Era of Social Distancing

Posted on: April 7th, 2020

By: Jennifer Adair, Jennifer Markowski and Andy Treese

Evaluating claims to move them towards resolution or trial is the lifeblood of a defense practice. This typically requires direct interaction with a plaintiff and key witnesses, either at deposition (to hear their testimony, to form impressions of how they will be received by a jury), at mediation (to assure the plaintiff personally understands the strengths and weaknesses of the case), or at trial.  In person interaction is simply not as practical as it used to be and, in some places, it might be illegal.  It is not surprising that we have been fielding inquiries from claims professionals and their insureds about whether we can continue to move their cases forward by conducting discovery and settling claims in an age of social distancing. 

The answer is yes.  At Freeman Mathis & Gary our attorneys routinely take depositions remotely and have had great success with remote mediation.  Both, however, carry their own practical considerations.

  • Depositions.  Remote depositions have been around for well over a decade, but the increased demand is changing the marketplace.  Many lawyers who have never used or have avoided remote deposition technology no longer have a practical choice.  Some are adapting more quickly than others:  we have seen some opposing counsel take clean, effective depositions by video, but we have also seen opposing counsel take depositions that were not effective due to lack of familiarity with the technology and/or a misunderstanding of the different methodologies necessary to prepare for a remote deposition.  Counsel should consider several factors when preparing for and conducting an online deposition: 
    • Is this a deposition you are willing to take remotely?  Minor witnesses, some experts, or witnesses in cases with low exposure can probably be deposed remotely without concern.  Depending on the facts and exposure associated with the case, there may be some witnesses you may simply want to depose in person, even if it delays the case for 45-60 days. 
    • Prepare for your deposition at least two days early.  Identify the exhibits you are certain to use at the deposition and assure they can be presented cleanly to the witness.   For those that are obvious (complaint, incident report, interrogatory responses, etc.) consider having them pre-marked and distributed by email to opposing counsel, the witness and court reporter to speed the deposition along.  Also, identify documents you may want to use (medical records, photographs, etc.) and have those available and ready to present during the deposition. These can be circulated by email and shown to the participants using the screen sharing function of most videoconferencing technology.
    • Understand the technology. What program will be used? How will exhibits be presented?  Have you tested the video conferencing software or any other technology you need to use during the deposition?  How does the audio system work (i.e. can more than one person speak at a time or would an objection by counsel also inadvertently mute the witness’ microphone)?
    • Consider the logistics of the oath.  Who will place the witness under oath and where will they be?  Does your state permit oaths to be administered remotely?  Consider making a formal stipulation on the record that, due to the pandemic, the parties agree to the sufficiency of an oath administered remotely.
    • Decide how objections will be handled.  If it suits your purpose strategically, you and opposing counsel may choose to reserve some objections that would typically be made on the record.
    • Understand the cost and the final product.  How much is the vendor charging for this deposition as opposed to a standard deposition?  Are they generating a traditional transcript or is the deposition also being recorded?
    • Make a plan for confidentiality. If the witness is your client, plan in advance how you will communicate (by email, texting, etc.) during the course of the deposition to avoid inadvertent disclosures. Make sure you know how to turn off your camera and microphone or, better yet, go into another room to converse with your client.
    • Expect the deposition to take longer than usual. Don’t allow logistical limitations to curtail zealous representation.
  • Mediations.  Mediation and other forms of ADR are effective because a knowledgeable, competent mediator can provide litigants and their counsel on both sides a “reality check” as to the strengths and weaknesses of their cases.  The process works better when the mediator can speak directly to the parties and for that reason, our instinct in the past has been to require personal attendance at mediation.  So far, however, we have found remote mediation to make sense for several reasons:
    • Remote mediation is generally effective.   Some cases simply don’t settle until a mediator twists a metaphorical arm or two.   Is that effective when the literal arms aren’t in the same room as the mediator?   So far, anyway, the answer seems to be yes – when the technology works.  Where that is the case, mediators can still engage in private caucuses and have the ability to review or share exhibits, documents, etc. as needed.   We can envision specific cases where a video mediation might not be appropriate but so far, remote mediation has been getting cases resolved.
    • Remote mediations keep cases moving.  Governmental orders aside, many of our adjusters and risk managers have been restricted by their employers from non-essential travel for the foreseeable future.  Remote mediation presents a cost-effective opportunity to resolve cases now.
    • Remote mediation is cost effective (for now).  Most of our vendors are currently providing remote mediation services at no extra charge.  Remember, mediation centers are a business, too, and have a vested interest in keeping their dockets full by providing the technology and know-how to make mediation convenient to the parties, via Zoom or similar systems. 
    • Litigants may have a greater motivation to settle their claims when faced with the reality that jury trials for civil cases seem unlikely to take place for at least several months after state and local judicial emergencies resolve.
    • Attorneys want to keep cases moving, too. Counsel may view remote mediation as a step that can be taken towards trial.  Most courts already require ADR / mediation before trial.  Others are likely to being imposing that requirement to control their post-coronavirus dockets. 
    • Understand privacy issues related to the technology. Media reports suggest that Zoom and potentially other platforms are at risk for security issues.  Make sure the mediator provides a password for participants to gain access, and that meetings are locked so that nobody can join without the moderator’s permission. Ensure that the mediator has disabled the recording function, and that chat is not archived. Ask your mediator to send instructions in advance so that you are comfortable with the measures being taken, and can request any additional protections you deem appropriate.

At Freeman Mathis & Gary, our team will continue to monitor and report on the use of emerging technologies to litigate claims and obtain favorable outcomes for our clients.

Additional information:

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues on a regular basis. Topics include COVID-19’s impact on finances and loans, the FFCRA, the CARES Act and more. Click here to register.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients. Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the Coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments. For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER: The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19. The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement. We can only give legal advice to clients. Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG. An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest. As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce education content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such. We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.**

What Should an Attorney Do If Attorney Has Mistakenly Produced a Privileged Document Under Massachusetts Law?

Posted on: February 14th, 2020

By: Adrianna Michalska

In the event that an attorney has mistakenly produced a privileged document in discovery, Massachusetts Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(5)(B) requires that he give prompt notice to the party receiving the document and takes reasonable steps to rectify the error.

The same Rule also prescribes conduct for the party receiving the mistakenly produced privileged document. After being notified of the inadvertent disclosure, the receiving party shall:

  1. Promptly return, sequester, or destroy the specified information and any copies of it;
  2. Refrain from using or disclosing the information until the claim is resolved; and
  3. Take reasonable steps to retrieve the information if the party disclosed it before being notified.

If the receiving party first discovers that a privileged document has been mistakenly produced, Massachusetts Rule 4.4(b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct requires that the party who receives information relating to the representation of the attorney’s client and knows or reasonably should know that the information was inadvertently send, shall promptly notify the sender.

Additionally, the receiving party may choose to present the disclosed privileged information to the court for a determination of the claim. Massachusetts Supreme Court has held that as long as “reasonable precautions against disclosure were taken,” inadvertent disclosure does not impair the privilege. In the Matter of the Reorganization of Electric Mutual Liability Ins. Co. Ltd. (Bermuda), 425 Mass. 419, 422 (1997). Even if the disclosure could be preventable with more careful attention, the court may find it to be nonetheless inadvertent. Vigor Works, LLC v. Skanska (Mass. Super. Ct. Feb. 12, 2019), 35 Mass. L. Rep. 425, 2019 Mass. Super. LEXIS 15, at *9. Thus, the court will not deem the privilege waived, unless it can determine that: (1) the disclosure was not inadvertent, (2) the holder of the privilege did not take reasonable steps to prevent the disclosure, and (3) the holder of the privilege did not take reasonable steps to promptly rectify the error.

To ensure that you are taking reasonable steps to protect the privilege, especially when working with voluminous document production, consider taking additional precautions, such as “creat[ing] a detailed privilege log, engag[ing] a litigation support company . . . , and numbering [and indexing] . . . documents . . . in a manner consistent with a detailed privilege log.” Commerce & Indus. Ins. Co. v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. (Mass. Sup. Ct. Dec. 11, 2000), 12 Mass. L. Rep. 574, 2000 Mass. Super. LEXIS 680, at *11.

About half of the states have imposed similar obligations on litigating lawyers in their jurisdictions. Some states that do not follow similar language to Massachusetts Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(5)(B) are New York (not prescribing any conduct on the receiving party, beyond notifying the sender) and Virginia (a receiving party is obligated to immediately terminate review or use of the inadvertently produced document, promptly notify the sender, and abide by the sender’s further instructions).

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Adrianna Michalska at [email protected], or any other member of our Lawyers Professional Liability Practice Group, a list of which can be found at www.fmglaw.com.

Arbitration Agreements in New Jersey Need More Details

Posted on: November 16th, 2018

By: Chris Curci

On November 13, 2018, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, issued an important decision holding that an arbitration agreement between the employer and employee was not enforceable. Flanzman v. Jenny Craig, Inc., Docket No. L-6238-17.  The arbitration agreement read:

Any and all claims or controversies arising out of or relating to [plaintiff’s] employment, the termination thereof, or otherwise arising between [plaintiff] and [defendant] shall, in lieu of a jury or other civil trial, be settled by final and binding arbitration. This agreement to arbitrate includes all claims whether arising in tort or contract and whether arising under statute or common law including, but not limited to, any claim of breach of contract, discrimination or harassment of any kind.

According to the Appellate Division, this agreement was unenforceable because it “failed to identify the general process for selecting an arbitration mechanism.” What exactly does that mean?

In its effort to clarify this standard, the Appellate Division stated that an employer is not required to “detail in the arbitration agreement the exact manner in which the arbitration” will proceed. However, an employer must identify the “forum” for the arbitration and clearly explain how the employee’s judicial rights to a jury trial are being replaced by the arbitration rights.

For example, the Court noted that it would be sufficient for an employer to (1) identify a forum such as the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”) or the Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services (“JAMS”), and (2) adopt that forum’s rules and procedures. The Court opined that this would be sufficient because AAA and JAMS’s rules and procedures address numerous procedural issues, such as: (1) notification requirements, (2) how to initiate proceedings, (3) management conferences, (4) discovery, (5) the location of the hearings, (6) the number of arbitrators, (7) how to communicate with the arbitrator, (8) attendance requirements, (9) dispositive motions, (10) evidence, (11) modification of awards, (12) and applications for fees, expenses and costs.

In other words, while the arbitration agreement is not required to “detail the exact manner in which the arbitration will proceed,” an employer must specifically identify a forum such as AAA or JAMS and incorporate that forum’s rules and procedures. This allows the employee to fully understand how his or her judicial rights to a jury trial are being replaced by arbitration.

Employers should review their employee arbitration agreements to ensure their enforceability. If you need help with this or any other employment related question, Chris Curci practices Labor & Employment law in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and is a member of Freeman Mathis & Gary’s Labor and Employment Law National Practice Section. He represents employers in litigation and advises clients on all aspects of employment law. He can be reached at [email protected].

Is Georgia Game for Growing Bad Faith Liability?

Posted on: July 17th, 2018

By: Jessica Samford

As discussed in my last blog on bad faith, seeking bifurcation can be a proactive means to distinguish the issue of coverage from the issue of bad faith and appropriately manage the all too often unwieldy discovery process before it’s too late.  A recent case in Georgia is an interesting illustration of an insurer’s attempt to bifurcate issues after the discovery stage in a bad faith failure to settle claim in particular and is yet another cautionary example for insurers to carefully consider the increasing potential for extracontractual liability in Georgia.  Whiteside v. GEICO Indem. Co., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87868, *3-*4 (M.D. Ga. May 25, 2018).

In that case, the trial court declined to bifurcate the issues of liability and proximate cause of damages at the trial stage as requested by Geico, which sought to have a jury determine whether or not Geico could be held liable for bad faith failure to settle before being presented with evidence of the default judgment entered against Geico’s insured of almost $3 million and causation of same.  Separation of liability and damages issues was not warranted according to the trial court because facts relating to Geico’s claim handling were relevant to both, and Geico’s concerns could be handled through proper jury instructions, special interrogatories, and the verdict form.  See also Whiteside v. GEICO Indem. Co., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52761 (M.D. Ga. Mar. 29, 2018).  The trial court did, however, bifurcate the claim for punitive damages from the rest of the jury trial.

The result was a jury verdict of $2 million against Geico for failing to settle in response to a bicyclist’s demand for the $30,000 policy limit based on medical bills of almost $10,000 following a motor vehicle accident.  Previously, Geico had argued there was no coverage due to the insured’s failure to notify Geico of the subsequent lawsuit she was served.  Whiteside v. GEICO Indem. Co., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 203617, *6, 2017 WL 6347174 (M.D. Ga. Dec. 12, 2017).  Notwithstanding such a flagrant breach of the policy’s notice conditions, the trial court did not see coverage as being an issue since that coverage defense did not exist at the time Geico responded to the demand by offering to settle for about half the limits instead.

These unusual circumstances are certainly noteworthy, and extracontractual damages such as these are becoming less uncommon in Georgia bad faith cases.  FMG’s Insurance Coverage and Bad Faith BlogLine has already geared up to cover the Georgia Supreme Court’s upcoming rulings after granting cert on the scope of what triggers failure to settle liability in Georgia, not to mention the proposed changes to the Restatement of the Law of Liability Insurance and their impact.  Whatever is in the cards for extracontractual liability in Georgia, the risks presented by settlement demands should be evaluated in light of these current trends.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Jessica Samford at [email protected].

9th Circuit Holds Inadmissible Evidence May Support Class Cert

Posted on: May 17th, 2018

By: Ted Peters

Courts around the country are split over whether admissible evidence is needed to support a class certification.  The Fifth Circuit requires it, and the Seventh and Third Circuits appear to be of the same opinion.  In contrast, the Eighth Circuit has indicated that inadmissible evidence can be considered.  On May 3, 2018, the Ninth Circuit join ranks with the Eighth Circuit when it issued an opinion indicating that certification of a class action can be supported by inadmissible evidence.

The case arises out of the district court’s decision to deny class certification to a group of nurses based, in part, on the finding that two of the named plaintiffs had not offered evidence that they were underpaid.  Their only evidence consisted of a paralegal’s analysis of time cards reflecting that hours were not properly calculated.  While perhaps not sufficiently trustworthy to be admitted at trial, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the district court prematurely rejected such evidence when ruling on whether the class could be certified.  The Court stated: “Notably, the evidence needed to prove a class’s case often lies in a defendant’s possession and may be obtained only through discovery.  Limiting class-certification-state proof to admissible evidence risks terminating actions before a putative class may gather crucial admissible evidence.”

The Court also concluded that, because there was no consideration as to whether the employer controlled the nurses after they clocked in, the district court misapplied the definition of “work” under California jurisprudence.  Lastly, the Court was critical of the finding that the law firm representing the putative class action was incapable of properly representing the class, focusing on “apparent errors by counsel with no mention of the evidence in the record demonstrating class counsel’s substantial and competent work on [the] case.”

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Ted Peters at [email protected].