By Judges Brian Addington and Josh Baker
A large part of a judge’s duty is to read the pleadings, exhibits, and depositions submitted by the parties. At times though, the paperwork can be extremely voluminous. Justice Antonin Scalia once famously asked Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler, “You really want us to go through these 2,700 pages?”
To deal with amount of evidence presented in cases, the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims instituted rules (scroll to page 9) requiring parties to number medical records in excess of ten pages. The parties are also required to provide a chronological table of contents. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board noted in James v. Landair Transport, Inc. that failure of the parties to follow these rules makes appellate review “unnecessarily cumbersome and time-consuming.” It also might lead to the exclusion of the evidence or delay the judge’s decision.
Remember that only relevant evidence is important to judges. Before presenting exhibits to the court at a hearing, the parties should ask themselves, “Why is this exhibit important to prove my case or defense?” If you cannot answer this question, the exhibit is probably irrelevant and should not be submitted.
This same rule also applies to deposition transcripts. When it comes to workers’ compensation cases, an employee must prove causation by expert medical evidence. In these cases, a judge may read a deposition or two, because the employer often has its own medical expert. These depositions are important for the parties as they provide the expert medical evidence the Worker’s Compensation Law requires to prove or defend the case. A key point to remember in submitting deposition transcripts is to be sure to provide guidance to the court on critical testimony within the deposition.
In Moore v. Peddinghaus Modern Techs., LLC, the trial judge decided the case and issued a ruling without reading the medical expert depositions. The defense attorney argued on appeal that the judge committed error when he failed to read the depositions prior to issuing his ruling on the case. The Special Panel of the Tennessee Supreme Court noted the trial judge admitted he did not read the depositions and agreed that the judge’s failure to read them was error. However, it observed the judge offered to read the depositions or let the parties submit summaries before he ruled, and the parties’ submitted summaries without objection. The Special Panel ruled the issue was waived.
Finally, if you and your opponent can agree on issues, stipulate to them. It will save you and the court time and, if you are a defense attorney, may also save money for your client. Additionally, stipulations ensure your judge has as little leeway as possible to read something into the evidence the parties do not like when making factual determinations.