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Litigants Must Take Prompt Action if an Opponent Serves a Deficient Expert Designation

October 15, 2021

Maryland’s second highest court recently issued a decision that considers what a litigant is required to do if their opponent serves an inadequate expert designation. That decision establishes that litigants who receive deficient expert designations must take prompt actions to address the deficiency.

Watson v. Timberlake involved a motor vehicle accident at an intersection. In the ensuing litigation, the defendant driver timely served an expert designation in which he designated an accident reconstructionist. While the designation described the qualifications of the expert and included a boilerplate basis for his opinions, it did not identify what those opinions were. The expert designation was served four months before the trial was scheduled to begin. Five days before the trial began, the defendant filed an amended pretrial statement in which it was stated, for the first time, that the previously-designated accident reconstructionist was expected to testify regarding the details of the accident and what plaintiff should have been able to see as she was approaching the intersection where the accident occurred. At the start of trial, plaintiff moved to preclude the defendant’s accident reconstructionist from testifying because his opinions had not been disclosed in the expert designation as required by the scheduling order and Maryland Court Rules. When the trial judge questioned why the matter had not been brought to the Court’s attention earlier, plaintiff’s counsel contended that it was not plaintiff’s duty to force defendant to fulfill his duty of disclosure. The trial judge disagreed, finding that the defendant’s failure to provide his expert’s opinion was a “discovery violation” that should have been addressed earlier and which did not warrant the extreme sanction of precluding defendant’s expert from testifying.

After the jury found for defendant on the question of liability, plaintiff appealed. The Court of Special Appeals held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by permitting the accident reconstructionist to testify. In doing so, it noted that if the plaintiff was dissatisfied with the defendant’s “disclosure and could not resolve the issue with good faith efforts, she was required to seek relief with reasonable promptness.”