In a case that is sure to trap the unwary, the Michigan Court of Appeals has upheld a trial court’s bar of expert witness testimony as a discovery sanction for failing to supplement answers to interrogatories. In the case of Lawton & Cates S.C. v International Brotherhood of Teamsters, (dckt. # 290479 rel. 9/21/10) the Plaintiff served expert interrogatories on the Defendant making the inquires authorized by MCR 2.302(B)(4). The Defendant answered very generally by naming an expert, listing a very broad area of testimony and indicating that the expert had not finished his review.
The case progressed and the Plaintiff never requested a deposition of the expert or otherwise addressed the previous interrogatory answers until trial was pending at which time a motion in limine was filed to bar the expert’s testimony. The trial court found that the Defendant’s failure to supplement meant that the Plaintiff was never provided with the expected expert testimony and was unable to prepare to address the evidence. Even if the Defendant did not ever receive an official written opinion, they were still obligated to provide the evidence that they expected would come from the expert witness. It was no excuse that the Plaintiff could have found out the opinions by taking the deposition of the witness.
The holding in this case brings Michigan more in line with the mandatory expert disclosures required in federal court. The lesson for practitioners is (1) always send out the expert interrogatories parroting the court rule when experts are involved in a case and (2) supplement, supplement, supplement.