Default Judgment as a Discovery Sanction

Richardson, who was 84 years old at the time of her accident, fell in the locker room while taking a water aerobics class on a College campus. She suffered severe injury to her hip which required surgical reconstruction and months of rehabilitation. She filed suit against the state seeking recovery for her medical expenses as well as pain and suffering.

Richardson sent her first discovery requests to the State seeking information related to her case. Following the State’s response, she sent a second set of discovery requests which included an interrogatory and a request for production seeking information regarding other slip and fall accidents at the same facility. The State refused to answer all ten interrogatories in this second set of requests, claiming that the information was irrelevant, that the requests were not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, and that the requests were vague and ambiguous. Additionally, the State offered no legally recognizable response to four of Richardson’s six requests for production. They simply responded, “Not applicable.”

Richardson sent a letter to the State, requesting an adequate response but the State failed to answer. Richardson then filed a Motion to Compel Discovery. The State responded to the motion by saying that the word “area” as used in “the area of Plaintiff’s fall” was too vague and ambiguous to answer. Initially, the State continued to contest Richardson’s requests for information about other falls, but during oral argument on the Motion to Compel finally agreed to provide that information. The District Court granted Richardson’s Motion to Compel, but did not grant her sanctions.

Following the Court order, Richardson reserved her discovery requests, with a few minor changes. Although the State provided answers to most of them, it continued to refuse to answer the questions regarding other falls in the facility. Finally, over seven months after Richardson’s initial request, over two months after discovery had closed, and more eleven days before trial – Richardson received a response to her originally submitted interrogatory and request for production regarding other falls at the facility.

There were brief descriptions of eight other falls resulting in injuries, and seven incident reports. However, the incident reports were of such a poor quality that legible copies had to be requested from the State which consumed more time before trial. Finally, a four day jury trial was held where the jury found eight to four that the State was not negligent.

Noting the Supreme Court “strictly adheres to the policy that dilatory discovery actions shall not be dealt with leniently,” the Court looked at appropriate sanctions. It noted that it had previously held that some discovery abuses warranted the imposition of a default judgment on the issue of liability and determined that it was appropriate in this case as well. The Court observed that “[t]he State’s concealment of the evidence of other falls prevented Richardson from assessing the merits of the State’s proffered defenses and building her case-in-chief. Additionally the belated disclosure preventing Richardson from conducting meaningful follow-up discovery in time for trial.”

Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that “the State’s pattern of willful and bad faith conduct outweighs the general preference for trial on the merits. Simply put, the State demonstrated clear disregard for a resolution on the merits when it improperly concealed important evidence by asserting frivolous objections, and subsequently sought to gain strategic advantage thereby.” On the basis, they entered a default judgment against the State on the issue of liability, and remanded for further proceedings to determine liability.

Contributory Negligence

Under § 27-1-702, contributory negligence does not bar recovery in an action for negligence resulting in death or injury to person or property if the contributory negligence was not greater than the negligence of the person or the combined negligence of all persons against whom recovery is sought. This means that a plaintiff could be found partially negligent but he could still recover damages from his suit.

For example, imagine that Fred is bicycling down the road when he is struck by Ben who is driving on the same road. Even if the jury finds that Fred was negligent in his bike riding because he was wearing headphones while riding, he can still recover damages in a suit against Ben so long as the jury finds that Ben’s negligence was greater than Fred’s. To put a number on it, so long as Fred was only 49% negligent, Ben’s negligence is greater than Fred’s and Fred can still prevail.

However, “any damages allowed must be diminished in the proportion to the percentage of negligence attributable to the person recovering.” This means that while Fred can recover damages in his suit against Ben, those damages must be reduced by whatever percentage negligent Fred was. So, in the earlier example where Fred was 49% negligent, any damages that were awarded to Fred in his suit would be reduced by 49%. He can still recover 51% of whatever is awarded to him, the percentage that Ben was responsible for.

If the jury finds that Fred’s negligence is equal to or greater than Ben’s negligence, then Fred will be unable to collect any damages under the rule. In a case with multiple defendants, the combined negligence of all the defendants is compared with that of the plaintiff to make the same determination.

Sexual Abuse Lawyers

Sexual Abuse is a crime, and the perpetrators can be held criminal responsible and sent to jail. But, they can also be held civilly liable and forced to pay for the damages they cause to their victims. Although nothing can repair the trauma and pain survivors face on a daily basis, the law does provide for recovery for a wide array of categories including ongoing treatment and counseling, pain and suffering, and others.

Sadly, children are especially vulnerable to these predators. Incurring this type of trauma during a person’s formative years can have lasting consequences and require ongoing assistance. As Sexual Abuse lawyers, we work to help clients receive the compensation they are entitled to for this horrendous crime. Although nothing can take away what happened, we can at least help you obtain what relief the system does offer.

Unlike other types of injury, sexual abuse often includes feelings of shame, embarrassment, and fear. Telling one person can be terrifying, let along reliving the horrific experience in front of an entire court room. But holding abusers and their institutions accountable is important, and can sometimes help with the healing process.

But the decision to hire a sexual abuse lawyer and pursue a case is very personal, and has to be something you are comfortable with. Ultimately, the decision has to be yours and yours alone. If we can help by offering legal advise or with an explanation of the legal process, it would be our pleasure.

Survivors of sexual abuse face unique hurdles in seeking justice, but a dedicated and knowledgable attorney can make a major difference. If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse, please contact an attorney immediately. As with any injury case, the statute of limitations can prove to be an impossible hurdle to overcome if survivors wait too long.