Category: Trial Practice and Procedure

The California Supreme Court Shrugs Off a Settlement to Provide Important Guidance on Admissibility of Former Deposition Testimony by Company Witnesses

We reported back in December [California Supreme Court Set to Decide How Defense Counsel Approach Defending Company Witness Depositions] on a case then pending before the California Supreme Court, Berroteran v. Superior Court. The case involves the former testimony exception to the hearsay rule, Evidence Code section 1291(a)(2), as applied to the deposition testimony of company witnesses taken in prior litigation. [Disclaimer: I wrote an amicus brief in support of the petition for review and another on the merits.]

Oral argument did not go well for the plaintiff. Consequently, it was not surprising that within a few days the parties notified the Court that they had reached a settlement. The Supreme Court could have dismissed the appeal at that point and left the issue unresolved. But because its core mission is “to secure uniformity of decision” and to settle important questions of law, Cal. Rule of Court 8.500(b), the Court went ahead and decided the appeal. 2022 WL 664719 (Cal. Mar. 7, 2022). And, as Larry David might say, the decision is pretty, pretty good.

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California Supreme Court Set to Decide How Defense Counsel Approach Defending Company Witness Depositions

The California Supreme Court will soon decide an evidentiary issue that could significantly impact how company witnesses are defended at deposition.

The Court heard argument December 7 in Berroteran v. Ford Motor Co., No. S259522, a class action opt-out case alleging consumer fraud claims based on purported defects in a Ford truck engine. The appeal involves interpretation and operation of California Evidence Code section 1291 — an exception to the hearsay rule for former testimony — and specifically how it applies to the deposition testimony of company employees taken in prior cases.

Ford moved in limine to exclude as hearsay the deposition testimony of nine current and former Ford employees taken in similar cases. In response, Plaintiff relied on section 1291.

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Itemize Damages or Waive Appeal? Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court Will Consider Whether Failure to Request an Itemized Verdict Waives the Right to Challenge an Award on Appeal

In many personal injury cases, including products cases, the most significant exposure is pain and suffering or similar damages that cannot readily be measured in dollars. Juries are usually constrained by specific testimony or documentary evidence in awarding lost income, medical expenses, or other losses that can be measured specifically, but awards for pain and suffering and similar damages are constrained only by jurors’ subjective views (and usually permissive standards of legal review such as whether the award “shocks the conscience”).

Not surprisingly, when large verdicts are appealed, the damages arguments often focus on the excessive amounts of pain and suffering or similar awards. But a recent order from Pennsylvania’s highest court carries a warning for defendants, as the Court agreed to consider whether a failure to demand an itemized list of each category of damages on the verdict sheet waives defendant’s right to challenge the award.

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Preparing for In-Person Trials in the PCCP during COVID

In March 2021, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas (“PCCP”) released its Protocols and Guidelines for conducting in-person civil jury trials during the COVID-19 pandemic (the “Protocols”). To curb the spread of COVID-19, the Protocols outline several precautions, including mask requirements, enforced social distancing, reduced capacity, strategically placed Plexiglass, and the use of streaming technology. Now, over two months later, more Americans are fully vaccinated and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) recently stated that fully vaccinated individuals may forgo wearing masks indoors and outdoors. However, the Protocols currently remain intact. While the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania often has stated that it would follow the CDC’s most recent masking guidelines, Philadelphia has often been more restrictive than the rest of the state. Regardless, it remains unclear what impact the CDC’s guidelines will have on future civil jury trials in the PCCP. Therefore, when preparing for trial in the PCCP, attorneys must familiarize themselves with the Protocols. Below are highlights from the Protocols which attorneys should consider when preparing for trial in the PCCP.

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New Jury Selection Procedure in California: Is This the End of Peremptory Challenges? Is This the End of Batson?

Jury selection in California is undergoing significant change. In August 2020, the California legislature passed AB 3070, which was signed by Governor Gavin Newsome on September 30. Beginning in 2022, objections to peremptory challenges in criminal cases will have more teeth, including a list of presumptively invalid reasons for striking a prospective juror and a new standard of review for appellate review of a trial court’s decision. While AB 3070 does not apply officially to civil jury trials until 2026, the significant overhaul in procedure effectuated by this new law is likely to influence a court’s analysis of the civil jury selection process before that time. The new law’s aim is noble: to bring an end to discrimination in jury selection. However, critics, including many within the California judiciary, say the new procedure is “unworkable.”

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A Litigator’s Guide to the 2020 New Jersey Rule Amendments

The New Jersey Court Rules were amended in July 2020, effective September 1, 2020. A number of these amendments are important for litigators, and this post provides a summary.
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