Substance Over Form-The Amendment to FRCP 26 May Improve Your Subrogation Case

On December 1, 2010, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 will be amended to exempt draft expert reports and certain categories of attorney/expert communication from discovery. In practice, this amendment will liberalize the communications your attorney can have with your testifying expert and reduce expenses that are incurred to comply with the Rule as it is currently written.

Current Rule
Under the current version of Rule 26, along with a written expert report a party must disclose “the data or other information considered by the witness in forming [his opinions]”. That “other information” would essentially be everything the expert read, looked at, or wrote down. Practically speaking, parties go to great lengths to conduct phone conferences with their testifying experts so nothing will be put in writing. In many cases a party will hire separate “consulting only” experts to assist in development of case theories. As written, the Rule has become a situation of form over substance.

Amended Rule
The amendment to Rule 26 requires that only the “facts and data considered by the witness” is discoverable. The Rules Committee has specifically stated that a primary purpose of the amendment is to extend the work-product privilege to draft expert reports. It will also allow for more natural communication between attorney and expert.[1] Under the amended rule, an attorney and expert will be able to speak and email much more freely about the development of the case and craft a report that truly captures the substance of the expert’s opinions.

In Subrogation Practice
In a subrogation case, experts are widely used. Expert reports are often prepared early on so the handling adjuster has something in writing for the file. Under the current Rule, the problem with the pre-litigation expert report is that as new or additional facts are developed through discovery, the report becomes obsolete or even incorrect. It is always challenging to receive a case with good subrogation potential but a poor expert report. You are forced to either hire a new expert (who likely will not have the benefit of firsthand information gathered when the loss was fresh) or produce the damaging report. Discovery of the early draft provides an opportunity for opposing counsel to impugn the credibility of your expert in deposition or trial. The Rule as amended can add value to an otherwise strong subrogation case, as well as save expenses by not having to jump through hoops to comply with the Rule as it is currently written.


[1] Certain areas of attorney expert communication are still open to discovery: 1) expert compensation; 2) facts or data provided by the lawyer that the expert considered in forming opinions; and 3) assumptions provided to the expert by the lawyer that the expert relied upon in forming the opinion.

 

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