In Fraser v. Jackson, 2014 IL App (2d) 130283, the Second District affirmed a $600K-plus jury verdict for the personal injury plaintiff. The Court also upheld the trial court’s exclusion of defendant’s medical expert testimony at trial and found that the defendant failed to answer plaintiff’s request to admit medical records in good faith.
Discovery Sanctions: Rule 219 and 213 Interplay
Illinois Supreme Court Rule 213(f)(3) requires a party, upon written interrogatory to identify controlled expert witnesses and provide testimonial subjects, conclusions, opinions, qualifications and any written reports. SCR 213(f)(3). The rule demands strict compliance. Rule 219 provides a trial judge with an array of sanctions options including barring testimony from a party or its expert where it fails to comply with discovery rules or orders. SCR 219(c)(iv). Sanctions are committed to the trial court’s discretion and the purpose of sanctions is not to punish; but to motivate discovery compliance. (¶¶ 28-29).
The Court found that the trial court properly barred defendant’s medical expert from testifying. The defendant violated several discovery orders and its retained expert failed to respond to a documents subpoena despite repeated requests. The trial judge gave defendant many chances to comply with discovery and entered progressive sanctions before barring outright the defendant’s expert from testifying.
Medical Records: Evidentiary Foundation Rules
The Court also held that plaintiff laid a sufficient foundation for the admission of his medical bills in evidence.
In Illinois, the evidentiary foundation for admitting medical records can be established by a doctor’s deposition testimony or through testimony of a non-doctor employee familiar with the medical practice’s billing methods and reasonableness of the charges. (¶40).
At trial, the plaintiff offered evidence deposition testimony of several treating physicians and a medical billing specialist – all of whom testified that plaintiff’s medical treatment and bills were reasonable and commensurate with the type of injury that plaintiff suffered in the car crash. This testimony cumulatively satisfied the foundation requirements for admitting medical bills into evidence.
Costs and Attorneys’ Fees (Rule 219(b) and 216 interplay)
The Court upheld the trial court’s $4,000 plus sanctions award against defendant for failing to respond in good faith to plaintiff’s request to admit that the medical bills were reasonable and necessary.
Illinois law allows a plaintiff to utilize a Rule 216 Request to Admit to seek admissions that his medical treatment and related expenses were reasonable and necessary in view of the plaintiff’s injury.
Rule 219(b) allows a plaintiff to recover fees and costs where he proves a requested fact that the defendant denies where the denial isn’t in good faith, based on privilege or some other permissible reason – even if the defendant doesn’t have a specific intent to obstruct the litigation process. SCR 219(b), ((¶¶44-46).
The court found the defendant’s failure to admit the reasonableness and amount of plaintiff’s medical bills was not in good faith. Because of the defendant’s denial, the plaintiff had to open up a case in another state (Wisc.) and subpoena a medical records agent to testify telephonically at trial. The Court found that because defendant made plaintiff jump through so many logistical hoops to get a billing agent to testify on a mundane issue, the trial court’s fees and costs award was proper. (¶47).
– A trial court has wide latitude to assess discovery sanctions including barring witnesses;
– A request to admit a fact that’s not subject to meaningful dispute should be admitted by the opposing side. Otherwise, the party denying the requested fact or document will have to pay the requesting party’s fees and costs incurred in proving that fact/document.