A Rules Gap that Can be a Fool’s Trap

October 16, 2013 § 4 Comments

MRCP 32 (a)(3)(E) allows for the use of a deposition at trial of a medical doctor “for any purpose.” R32(a) says that the deposition may be used ” … so far as admissible under rules of evidence applied as though the witness were then present and testifying… ”

In practice, that language has been applied to excuse medical doctors from personal appearance at trial, allowing their testimony to be presented by video deposition, or by reading into the record in jury trials, or by introduction of the transcribed deposition in bench trials. The deposition of a medical doctor, then, per this rule, has been deemed admissible in evidence as though the doctor were present and testifying, simply because the witness is a medical doctor.

When this amendment to rule 32 was adopted. It was seen as a friendly gesture to the medical profession, a way to encourage testimony of doctors without unduly interfering with their schedules. All doctor testimony henceforth would be via deposition. It was a no-cost win-win.

But, as Lee Corso would say, not so fast my friend.

The deposition of the medical doctor is unquestionably a hearsay statement, so how does MRCP 32(a) mesh with MRE 804(a), which creates the hearsay exception for persons deemed unavailable to testify? If you will read MRE 804(a), it is clear that the mere status of medical-doctorhood does not automatically fit one into any of the six definitions of unavailability set out in subsection (a). Nor does that status automatically fit into any of the hearsay exceptions in subsection (b). It may be that the doctor’s statement could be qualified as an exception under subsection (b)(5), but that would require a finding by the court, after prior notice by the offering party to counsel opposite.

The answer is that the MRE controls. That’s what MRE 1003 states: “All evidentiary rules, whether provided by statute, court decision or court rule, which are inconsistent with the Mississippi Rules of Evidence are hereby repealed.”

This gap between the two rules caught a party unprepared in the case of Parmenter v. J & B Enterprises, Inc., 99 So.3d 207, 219 (Miss. App. 2012), in which the trial judge disallowed the expert testimony via deposition per MRCP 32(a) where there was no proof of unavaiability as defined in MRE 804. The appellant unsuccessfully argued that MRCP 32(a) allowed the introduction. The COA held, to the contrary, that the MRE provision controlled.

Don’t assume that, just because you have gotten that doctor’s deposition, it will automatically be admissible in lieu of the doctor’s personal testimony. To do that, you will still have to prove the doctor’s unavailability as defined in MRE 804. That may be something you can achieve via requests for admission, or by stipulation, or by making a record.

Oh, and don’t overlook (1) that you have to plant somewhere in the record enough proof to satisfy the judge of the doctor’s qualifications to testify as an expert in the first place, and (2) that MRCP 32(a) applies only to medical doctors, not to PhD clinical psychologists. Those were two stumbling blocks for the plaintiff in Parmenter.

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