CPLR R. 3117 and the Missing Witness Charge

CPLR R. 3117 Use of depositions
(a) Impeachment of witnesses; parties; unavailable witness
(4)  the deposition of a person authorized to practice medicine may be used by any party without the necessity of showing unavailability or special circumstances, subject to the right of any party to move pursuant to section 3103 to prevent abuse

Lauro v City of New York, 2009 NY Slip Op 08186 (App. Div., 2nd, 2009)

Additionally, contrary to the defendants' contentions, the Supreme Court properly gave a missing witness instruction (see Taveras v Martin, 54 AD3d 667; Brown v City of New York, 50 AD3d 937). " [W]hen a doctor who examines an injured plaintiff on the defendant's behalf does not testify at trial, an inference generally arises that the testimony of such witness would be unfavorable to the defendant. The defendant may defeat this inference by demonstrating that the testimony would be merely cumulative, the witness was unavailable or not under the defendant's control, or the witness would address matters not in dispute'" (Hanlon v Campisi, 49 AD3d 603, 604, quoting Brooks v Judlau Contr., Inc., 39 AD3d 447, 449, revd 11 NY3d 204). Here, the defendants failed to defeat the inference (see Taveras v Martin, 54 AD3d 667; Brown v City of New York, 50 AD3d 937).

How do you go about getting the charge.  Taveras is instructive,

The Supreme Court did not err in granting the defendant's request for a missing-witness charge for Leo F. Taveras. A party seeking a missing-witness charge must "promptly notify the court that there is an uncalled witness believed to be knowledgeable about a material issue pending in the case, that such witness can be expected to testify favorably to the opposing party and that such party has failed to call him to testify" (People v Gonzalez, 68 NY2d 424, 427 [1986]). As the party opposing the missing-witness charge, the appellant failed to demonstrate that Leo F. Taveras was "unavailable, not under [his] control, or that [his] testimony would be cumulative" (Adkins v Queens Van-Plan, 293 AD2d 503, 504 [2002]). Leo F. Taveras was the operator of the vehicle in which the appellant was a passenger and he is also the appellant's brother. Thus, it is clear that Leo F. Taveras is favorably disposed to the appellant and under his control (see People v Marsalis, 22 AD3d 866, 868-869 [2005]). The appellant failed to demonstrate that Leo F. Taveras remained ill after his hospital release or was otherwise unavailable (compare People v Turner, 294 AD2d 192 [2002]).

And bringing it on home is Brown,

Contrary to the defendants' contention, the Supreme Court properly granted the plaintiffs' request for a missing witness charge with respect to the defendant Julio A. Torro, the driver of the vehicle that allegedly struck the van of the injured plaintiff Joe S. Brown. Torro, who at all relevant times was represented by counsel, and who had previously given deposition testimony, inexplicably failed to appear at the trial to testify. A jury may, but is not required to, draw the strongest inference that the opposing evidence permits against a party who fails to testify at trial (see Crowder v Wells & Wells Equip., Inc., 11 AD3d 360, 361 [2004]; Farrell v Labarbera, 181 AD2d [*2]715, 716 [1992]; see also Noce v Kaufman, 2 NY2d 347, 353 [1957]).
What happens in cases where a party takes the testimony of a non-treating doctor, perhaps a IME doctor or a peer review doctor, and uses that deposition at trial under CPLR R. 3117(a)(4)?  And assume the doctor is available to testify.  And of course, unavailable doesn't mean that the doctor might have something better to do that day.  What then?  Get your missing witness charge (PJI 1:75).  To sort of conclude:  Can you use the deposition?  Probably.  Can the other side get a missing witness charge?  Probably.  The next question is:  Is it worth it?  I'll get into that in a minute.

*intermission* Or, for the few no-fault types who read this blog, consider the case of the re-peer. */intermission*

A couple of months ago I tried to do some research on 3117(a)(4).  I was more or less trying to understand the impetus behind the provision.  As it turns out, I'm terrible at researching this.  I had a research librarian trying to help me out and I really couldn't get anything on it.  That said, I'm pretty sure it is a patient treating mechanism, not a money saving mechanism.  The only reason to have a rule that allows for doctors' depositions to be used at trial is to keep them out of court and in their offices, treating patients.  Lately, a few insurance companies have been using it as a money saving mechanism.  Have one doctor in their (ins co lawyer's) office all day doing depositions for various cases–the doctors get paid a fixed (lower) rate, and the insurance companies don't have to pay the doctors to appear at trial.  At trial, the insurance company lawyer reads the deposition into the record.  There is no doubt that CPLR R. 3117(a)(4) is being used as a money saving mechanism.  From experience, I can tell you that the doctors are available to testify.  There are days where they are in court to testify on over five cases for various insurers.  Do I blame them?  No, everyone needs to make a living. The point is, they aren't treating patients.  The depositions aren't allowing them to treat more patients.  They still come to court and testify on cases where depositions weren't held.

Like I said, and I could be wrong (but I doubt it) CPLR R. 3117(a)(4) was not intended to be a money saving mechanism.

Finally, and I alluded to this before, is this something a party really wants to do?  Depositions are a completely different animal than trials.  It's part of discovery.  Accordingly, there is a lot of leeway.  All those questions that you could never get away with at trial; you can ask them.  If the insurance company refuses to allow their doctor to answer and bust the deposition, well, that will be their problem.  Th
ere is a lot of interplay between IME doctors, Peer Review doctors, the vendors that work in-between the doctors and the insurance companies, and the insurance companies.  Do you really want these questions asked?  Do you want the answers memorialized?  I'd guess no.  But, I could always be wrong.  In the end, it could wind up costing far more than it would save.

Finally, using this rule is a ballsy move.  One that most parties wouldn't make but for desperation.  We can all agree that a jury wouldn't like it.  Would a Judge?  Would anyone feel comfortable telling the trier of fact, especially one that went to law school, and one who is smarter than your average Joe that, "Yes your honor, I didn't think it important that you see the witness.  No, you don't have to worry about the witness' demeanor.  It's fine, trust me".  And if the other side asked for a missing witness charge, how would you respond?

Something to think about.

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