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Defense Motion to Compel Discovery Denied in New Mexico Personal Injury Case

On Behalf of | Jul 28, 2020 | Personal Injury

The pre-trial discovery process can enable parties to lawsuits in New Mexico to obtain information they would not otherwise be able to access.  A ruling by a magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico shows that, while discovery in personal injury cases can be broad, federal law also sets limits on what is potentially discoverable.

The plaintiff in the discovery dispute at issue brought a lawsuit seeking to recover damages for injuries she allegedly suffered following implantation of a surgical mesh product intended for treatment of medical conditions of the female pelvis.  Among the defendants she sued were manufacturers and sellers of the surgical mesh and the doctor who allegedly recommended and implanted the mesh.

The underlying lawsuit has a somewhat complex procedural history because complications following surgical mesh implantations have occurred in multiple jurisdictions, and there are multiple courts hearing related disputes.  In this case, one of the corporate defendants removed the plaintiff’s lawsuit from New Mexico state court to federal court based on diversity of citizenship jurisdiction.  Then some aspects of the plaintiff’s lawsuit were swept into multi-district federal litigation in West Virginia.  The case was ultimately remanded to the District of New Mexico, after some of the defendants were dismissed, for resolution of the claims the plaintiff asserted against the doctor who allegedly recommended and implanted the mesh.  The plaintiff then filed an amended complaint alleging that the doctor who treated her had committed medical negligence by implanting the mesh in her body.

As part of the doctor’s defense, his counsel brought a motion to compel responses to discovery by the plaintiff.  The plaintiff opposed the relief requested.  The court adjudicating the motion to compel understood the defendant doctor to be seeking discovery of communications between the plaintiff (and her attorneys and other agents) and the defendants who were dismissed out of the lawsuit (and their representatives, agents and insurers). Under Federal Rule of Evidence 408, evidence of settlement discussions is inadmissible for certain purposes, but some courts have held it still can be discovered as long as a heightened standard is met.  The heightened standard can be met when (1) the party seeking the discovery has a special need for the materials; (2) unfairness would result from a lack of discovery of the materials; and (3) the party’s need for the evidence outweighs the interest in maintaining confidentiality.

In this case, the court concluded that it need not decide whether to apply this heightened standard because the court was of the view that the defendant doctor had failed to demonstrate that the communications were relevant to his defense.  As the court explained, citing a ruling by the Court of Appeals of New Mexico for this point, “there is no right to reduction of a jury award based on out-of-court settlements when the case is tried on a theory of comparative fault.”  The court rejected the various arguments by the doctor to the contrary and denied his motion to compel.

If you or a loved one has been hurt in an accident, you may be entitled by law to receive a monetary award.  In some cases multiple parties can be liable for the payment of money damages.  Receiving damages can help injured people and their families recover out-of-pocket costs including medical bills and lost wages.  The legal process for pursuing a recovery can be complex, and you should not have to navigate the process on your own.  We can help.  To understand more about your case and how it can be pursued to maximize your financial recovery, call New Mexico personal injury lawyer Matthew Vance. At the Law Office of Matthew Vance, P.C., we provide a free consultation and can be reached at 505-445-1604 or contact attorney Matthew Vance online.