Here is one to watch for our readers who practice in Pennsylvania. The state Supreme Court has before it the issue of discovery of communications between lawyers and their expert witnesses. See Carl Barrick v. Holy Spirit Hospital of the Sisters of Christian Charity, et al., No. 76 MAP 2012 (S.Ct. Pa.).
Barrick filed suit against Holy Spirit Hospital and Sodexho Management Inc. alleging personal injuries in the cafeteria of Holy Spirit Hospital. An orthopedic surgeon who treated Barrick for injuries sustained from the accident was also named as an expert witness. One of the defendants subpoenaed Barrick’s medical chart and other records, but the Doctor’s medical center withheld some records which allegedly were trial preparation materials under Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure.
The defendant filed a motion to compel, and after the trial court conducted an in camera review, the court ordered the release of the materials to the defendants. This was in line with some state cases that suggested work product protections in Pennsylvania are not as strong as under the federal rules. The plaintiff appealed, and a panel of the Superior Court upheld the ruling in 2010. The issue was then reconsidered by the Superior Court sitting en banc, which ruled that the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure did not compel the disclosure of such communications between attorneys and their expert witnesses. Arguably this ruling offered more protection than the federal rules do. It also made an interesting contrast with Rule 4003.5 which, upon cause shown, gives state courts some ability to compel experts to do more than the basic response to interrogatories regarding their anticipated testimony at trial.
The 8-1 majority reasoned that Pa.R.C.P. 4003.5 controls discovery regarding expert testimony, and it specifies that a party cannot directly serve discovery requests upon a non-party expert witness. Discovery regarding testimony of an expert other than through a defined set of interrogatories must be made upon the showing of good cause to the court, not through a subpoena. Here, the correspondence sought by the defendant did not fall into the area of interrogatory permitted under Rule 4003.5(a)(1).
Following the en banc ruling, defendants appealed. The issue before the supreme court now is whether the superior court’s holding “improperly provides absolute work-product protection to all communications between a party’s counsel and their trial expert.”