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CT: Disclosure of Experts: Don't Wait till its too Late!

Beecher v. Greaves, 73 Conn. App. 561, 808 A.2d 1143 (Conn. App. 2002)

CT: Underlying foreclosure action

Student Contributor: Laura Binski

Facts: The lawyer represented the client in two foreclosure actions in 1996. In 1997 and 1998, the client brought a legal malpractice action grounded in professional negligence against the lawyer. The client claims that the lawyer was negligent in allowing the foreclosure sale to be significantly lower than the property appraisal. The client intended to call Mr. Heberger as an expert witness on the issue of causation, and Mr. Weinstein as an expert witness on the issue of liability. However, the client did not disclose her intention to call Mr. Heberger until shortly before trial. As a result, the court precluded Mr. Heberger’s testimony and directed verdict for the defendant. The client now appeals the rulings of the trial court.

Issue: Did the trial court improperly exclude the testimony of the client’s expert witness and improperly direct verdict in favor of the lawyer?

Ruling: No. “Any party expecting to call an expert witness at trial must disclose the name of the expert, subject matter on which the expert will testify, and summary of the facts and opinions about which the expert will testify to all other parties within a reasonable time prior to trial.” In this case, the client should have provided notice much earlier that she intended to call Mr. Heberger as an expert on causation issues. The late notification might unduly prejudice the defendant and interfere with the orderly progress of the trial.

“A trial court must direct a verdict for the defendant if a jury could not reasonably and legally reach any other conclusion than that the defendant is entitled to prevail.” Here, the client’s expert Mr. Weinstein only discussed issues of liability. Causation is a requisite element in legal malpractice cases. The client’s failure to provide an expert on the issue of causation was fatal to her legal malpractice claim, so the trial court was correct to direct verdict in favor of the defendant.

Lesson: This case serves as a reminder for clients to be prompt in choosing and disclosing their expert witnesses. In this case, the client filed the legal malpractice actions in 1997 and 1998. However, she waited until just a few weeks before her trial in 2001 to disclose her intention to call Mr. Heberger to testify about causation. As a result, the expert was not permitted to testify, and the client lost her entire case. 

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Posted in: Expert Witnesses, Real Estate