Trucking company loses $1.5 million appeal after expert witness' disobedience

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | Monday, October 22, 2018

In a bizarre legal case dealing with expert witnesses and a can of soda, a trucking company is still on the hook for $1.5 million for a 2013 crash. The verdict may have been different if an expert witness were to simply comply with standard requests.

A panel for an Illinois appellate court has affirmed a lower court’s decision to award Chadana Myatt $1.5 million after she sued trucking company Cassens Transport for a crash involving her vehicle and one of its trucks.

Edwardsville, Ill.-based Cassens appealed the decision, claiming the court erred by barring one of their expert witnesses for failing to produce Internal Revenue Service Form 1099s as proof of income. The trucking company also claimed the court got it wrong when it did not allow Myatt’s deposition as an evidentiary admission regarding which traffic lane she was in during the crash. The appellate court was not compelled by Cassens’ argument and affirmed the decision.

This case stems from a crash in October 2013, when Myatt was driving east on Interstate 88 in stop-and-go rush hour traffic, according to court documents. While stopped in traffic and drinking a can of soda, one of Cassens’ trucks struck the rear end of her vehicles at 10-15 mph. Her car was pushed forward, but not enough to collide with the vehicle in front of her.

According to the complaint, the impact caused the can to strike Myatt’s tooth. In September 2014, Myatt filed a lawsuit against Cassens seeking damages for the injury to her tooth as well as chronic neck, shoulder and head pain.

During legal proceedings in January 2015, Myatt served requests for any 1099s given to any person who would testify at trial. Form 1099 is used to report various types of income other than wages and salaries. Myatt also requested, for all of defendants’ experts, documents indicating their annual income from expert witness work.

One of Cassens’ experts was neurosurgeon Dr. George Dohrmann. The doctor was to testify the following:

“It is Dr. Dohrmann’s opinion that (Myatt) has progressive degenerative disease of the spine. It is his opinion that the progressive degenerative disease of the spine was not caused by the motor vehicle accident of Oct. 8, 2013, and the course of the plaintiff’s progressive degenerative disease of the spine was not changed by the Oct. 8, 2013, motor vehicle accident. Any medical treatment received by the plaintiff after 3 months past (the) motor vehicle accident was not related to the Oct. 8, 2013, accident.”

Myatt asked to identify Dohrmann’s annual income from legal-medical matters within the past five years. She did not request 1099s or any other specific tax forms reflecting the income. Cassens stated, “No document containing the requested information exists.” In response to a different request by Myatt regarding their correspondence with Dohrmann, defendants produced three bills for Dohrmann’s services that totaled $8,025.

During his deposition Dohrmann stated that 1099s were sent to him reflecting amounts paid for expert witness work, but he did not keep them. When asked if he had an accountant, Dohrmann stated that he was in the process of getting a new one. He stated that his accountant never told him to keep his 1099s, but he could not recall whether he filed his tax returns or his accountant did.

When Dohrmann was asked how much of his annual income came from testifying as an expert witness, the defense attorneys told him to only give a percentage, which he said was less than 10 percent. Dohrmann declined to give an exact number or even if it was more or less than $10,000. Dohrmann also could not remember how often he was hired by plaintiffs versus defendants nor could he recall the name of any lawyer he had worked for in the past five years.

Dohrmann also refused to discuss a closed legal case in which he was the plaintiff. He had sued his elderly widow neighbor to enforce an alleged contract in which the widow agreed to give Dohrmann over $5.5 million in assets in exchange for Dohrmann’s agreement to add the widow’s surname to the names of his minor sons.

Myatt’s attorneys moved to dismiss Dohrmann’s testimony due to his evasive answers and failure to answer questions. Furthermore, they requested the court to compel Dohrmann to produce expert witness income documents as had already been requested.

Eventually, the doctor produced a one-page document reflecting his expert witness income from the past five years. The document only stated the year and total income. No other details were given. Expert witness annual income ranged from $42,000 to $45,000. Dohrmann claimed he never keeps 1099 forms.

The court informed the doctor that it orders experts to produce 1099s “all the time” and that he, as an experienced expert witness, knew or should have known that. Consequently, the court barred him from testifying unless he produced the 1099s. He never did.

Cassens’ attorneys requested extra time to find another expert, stating Dohrmann’s noncompliance had nothing to do with them. That motion was denied.

Myatt’s witnesses testified that the crash could lead to injuries consistent with her symptoms and that the crash could exacerbate her condition. Because of Dohrmann’s noncompliance, Cassens had no expert witness to rebut Myatt’s medical experts.

Despite finding Myatt 27 percent contributorily negligent, a jury awarded her more than $1.5 million for damages.

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