Once again the Georgia Court of Appeals has demonstrated willingness to support a trial court’s imposition of extreme sanctions for discovery abuse. In Gropper v. STO Corp., the plaintiffs established a long pattern of failure to cooperate in discovery. The trial judge ultimately lost patience and dismissed the complaint. The Court of Appeals found no abuse of discretion by the trial judge. I won’t belabor the details, which are recited at length in the court’s opinion copied below, but I will make a few general observations:
* It is sometimes difficult to get clients to understand why it is important to respond to all those obnoxious questions from the other side. This case is a reminder that if you are not prompt and responsive, you may just get bounced right out of court. Fortunately, I have an excellent paralegal who bird-dogs compilation of information from clients and other sources for discovery responses.
* Usually in the types of cases we handle, we have to use formal discovery to extract information that only the other side possesses and does not want to give up. If you are going to ask the court to compel discovery from the other side, you had better have a respectable track record of responsiveness yourself. You don’t want to be “the pot calling the kettle black.”
* It is extremely important to docket all discovery response dates and internal deadlines for response preparation, and to document agreements to extend deadline, either by letter or with a consent order. Competent staff support is essential in keeping up with this, but someone should cross-check timelines themselves with some regularity. Just this week, after noticing depositions of a truck driver and his employer for mid-December, and agreeing to reschedule them in Ohio in late January at the request of defense counsel, we noticed that the new date was two days after the court deadline for filing motions to compel discovery. It was easy to get a consent order to extend deadlines when I caught the problem two months out, but if we hadn’t monitored the timeline, we would have given up the ability to compel answers if the defense stonewalls.
* While it was the plaintiff’s complaint being stricken in Gropper, it can just as easiliy be the defendant’s answer being stricken for discovery abuses. Those on the defense side who blithely destroy or hide key documents, conceal excess insurance policies, or subtly encourage defendants to become “unavailable” for their depositions when plaintiffs’ counsel drives halfway across the state for a noticed deposition, should pay heed.
The Shigley Law Firm represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a “SuperLawyer” in Atlanta Magazine and one of the “Legal Elite” in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks).