A California Appeals Court recently reached a decision in a car accident case clarifying the extent to which a defendant can require a plaintiff to submit to a particular kind of examination during the course of a personal injury lawsuit. The case involved a lower court’s decision to allow the defendant to have the plaintiff undergo a vocational rehabilitation examination during the course of evidence gathering, called discovery, so that the defendants’ expert could reach an opinion as to whether and to which extent the plaintiff could pursue gainful employment.
The underlying incident occurred in November 2012 when the plaintiff was delivering packages at a university in his capacity as an employee of On Trac. As he was delivering packages from his parked truck, the car owned by one of the co-defendants, which was parked by the other co-defendant, an employee of the university (later added as an additional defendant), purportedly rolled down a hill and struck the plaintiff. As a result of the accident, the plaintiff sustained multiple fractures to his right femur and pelvis, requiring surgery. At the time of the decision, he had not returned to work since the accident.
In September 2013, the plaintiff filed suit against the owner of the car and the individual who had been driving the car that day. He later amended his complaint to add the university as a defendant. The plaintiff sought compensatory damages for wage loss and loss of earning capacity, among other claims.
At the request of the university, the plaintiff was examined by an orthopedic surgeon, who wrote in his resultant October 2015 report his opinion that the plaintiff’s injuries had healed, and although the plaintiff had not returned to work, it was the physician’s opinion that there was no medical reason he could not pursue gainful employment.
The defendants filed a motion to compel the plaintiff to undergo a vocational rehabilitation examination, arguing that they were entitled to do so because the plaintiff was claiming that he could not hold any gainful employment. The plaintiff opposed the motion, asserting that there was no provision in the Civil Discovery Act that would allow the defendants to obtain such an evaluation. The plaintiff also argued it was unnecessary because the defendants could review his expert’s report and cross-examine the expert at trial. The trial court ultimately granted the defendant’s motion, stating in support reasons of fairness and due process.
On appeal, the court first reviewed a similar case, Browne v. Superior Court (1979) 98 Cal.App.3d 610 (Browne), in which the decision explicitly held that the court could not require a party to undergo a vocational rehabilitation examination by a non-physician under the then-existing discovery provisions in the law. It further stated that the ability to require an examination was a matter best left to the legislature to decide.
The court thus turned to statutory interpretation. In reviewing the relevant provision, Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 2016.010, it found that the law explicitly provided for six types of discovery:
(1) oral and written depositions; (2) interrogatories to a party; (3) inspections of documents, things, and places; (4) physical and mental examinations; (5) requests for admissions; and (6) simultaneous exchanges of expert trial witness information.
Looking at the provision in the context of other provisions and in the context of the legislative history, the court did not find evidence that would authorize the defense to conduct its own vocational rehabilitation examination. The appeals court thus found that the nature of the law was clear, that requiring the plaintiff to undergo the defense examination was not authorized by law, and that the trial court’s decision to require the examination had exceeded its authority. In addition to distinguishing other cases the defendants attempted to argue bolstered their case, the court dismissed the defendants’ arguments based on a separate discovery code section that dealt with the scope of discovery rather than the method of discovery, which was at issue in the case at hand.
The appeals court thus concluded that the court’s authority was limited to granting the types of discovery explicitly stated under the relevant code section, and to grant the vocational rehabilitation examination as an additional method of discovery exceeded that scope. It thus ordered the trial court to vacate the granting of that motion.
Automotive collisions can lead to serious, life-altering injuries. When victims are injured because of the carelessness of another driver, they are usually entitled to compensation for their injuries. If you were injured in a car accident caused by the negligence of another driver, call 855-365-9955 today to schedule a free consultation with The Rubinstein Law Group.
California Appellate Court Rules for Defendants in Alcohol-Related Car Accident Case, San Diego Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, published March 27, 2017
Avoiding Car Accidents This Thanksgiving, San Diego Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, published November 17, 2016<