Nutt v. Black Hills Stage Lines, Inc., 20730.

Decision Date22 December 1971
Docket NumberNo. 20730.,20730.
Citation452 F.2d 480
PartiesAgnes R. NUTT, Appellee, v. BLACK HILLS STAGE LINES, INC., a Corporation, Kenneth Clark and Robert Mechaley, Appellants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

Thomas E. Simmons, and Robert LaFleur, Rapid City, S. D., for appellants.

Curtis D. Ireland, Rapid City, S. D., for appellee.

Before MATTHES, Chief Judge, VAN OOSTERHOUT, Circuit Judge, and EISELE, District Judge.*

EISELE, District Judge.

This diversity personal injury litigation is on appeal from the District of South Dakota. The jury awarded the plaintiff-appellee $25,000.00 for injuries sustained when a bus operated by Black Hills Stage Lines, on which appellee was riding as a passenger, collided with a horse which had escaped from a fenced field under the joint control of defendants Robert Mechaley and Kenneth Clark. Defendants-appellants moved for a new trial solely on the issue of damages. The motion was denied, 320 F. Supp. 72. It is from the judgment in favor of the plaintiff and the order denying the motion for a new trial that defendants appeal.

Appellants raise substantially the same points, here, that were raised in the motion for a new trial. Only two of these raise serious questions: First, the appellants contend that the trial judge abused his discretion in denying their motion for a continuance. Second, they contend that it was prejudicial error to allow appellee's medical witness, who examined appellee for the sole purpose of qualifying himself to testify as an expert at the trial, to recount the medical history and subjective complaints related to him by the appellee and to then base his opinion thereon.

The accident in question occurred in August, 1966. On that day, the appellee, Mrs. Nutt, a resident of Scotland, was traveling to Rapid City, South Dakota, to visit her daughter. Just outside of Rapid City, the bus, on which she was traveling, collided with the horse and Mrs. Nutt received injuries for which she was temporarily hospitalized. She stayed with her daughter for a short time after being discharged from the hospital and then returned to Scotland.

The complaint was filed on March 19, 1969. In April of that year interrogatories were served upon appellee. In her answers, appellee related, among other things, the names and addresses of the doctors who treated her as well as the nature of her injuries, including the symptoms which she then claimed to have.

The case was set for trial on Thursday, October 1, 1970.

On September 28, 1970, appellee returned to Rapid City for the trial, and, upon arrival, was examined by Dr. Harold Fromm, her initial treating physician. The next day, Tuesday, she saw an ear, nose and throat specialist and was also referred for X-ray examination of her spine. On the same day, appellants took Mrs. Nutt's deposition, as well as Dr. Fromm's. In addition, they received the reports of all of the doctors who had treated or examined her up to that time. On Wednesday, September 30, appellee was examined by Dr. Natarajan, a neuropsychiatrist, admittedly for the sole purpose of qualifying the doctor to testify on her behalf. The trial began the following morning.

It was during the voir dire of the jury panel that appellants first learned: (1) that Dr. Natarajan might be called as one of appellee's witnesses; and (2) that appellee seriously claimed to suffer from traumatic neurosis. At the close of the opening statements, appellants moved to either strike appellee's claim of traumatic neurosis or grant a continuance because of appellee's failure to notify them of the name of the witness and because of surprise and lack of an opportunity to engage in the necessary discovery proceedings. The motion was denied with the understanding that Dr. Natarajan would not testify until the following day and, further, that Mrs. Nutt would be made available that evening for a psychiatric examination by a doctor for the defendants. The defendants attempted, but were unable, to locate a psychiatrist to make such an examination.1

The next morning, on the second day of trial, appellee furnished a copy of Dr. Natarajan's report to counsel for the appellants. Appellants renewed their motion. It was again denied and Dr. Natarajan was permitted to testify.

Dr. Natarajan, during direct examination, was permitted, over appellants' objection, to recount the history related to him by Mrs. Nutt during his examination. He thereafter stated his opinion as to the causation and permanency of the alleged injuries based primarily upon said history. He was subjected to a vigorous and thorough cross-examination by the appellants.

With respect to appellants' first point, appellants contend that the court abused its discretion in denying their motion for a continuance, or, alternatively, in permitting the plaintiff to use Dr. Natarajan and to make proof with respect to the "new" claim of traumatic neurosis. They specifically argue that appellee had a continuing duty to seasonably notify them of the possibility that Dr. Natarajan might testify and that there would be a claim for traumatic neurosis, a claim which was not supported by the reports or statements of the other doctors who treated her.2 They argue that the disclosure at the commencement of trial did not satisfy this duty and that the denial of the motion for a continuance prejudiced the appellants by denying them their right to investigate Dr. Natarajan's qualifications and to obtain their own medical evaluation of the new claim and, possibly, adverse expert testimony to rebut it.

Appellee contends that there was no abuse of discretion. She argues that since Dr. Natarajan did not examine her until the day prior to the commencement of the trial and since the possibility of his testifying was disclosed the next morning, there was no prejudice to the defendants. In addition, appellee contends that the trial judge properly protected appellants' rights by giving him an opportunity to obtain an adverse medical examination. Appellee also emphasizes the fact that appellants conducted a vigorous and thorough cross-examination which indicated that they were adequately prepared.

The record does not reveal any willful unfairness on the part of the plaintiff.

This court recently stated that a trial court should have broad latitude and "discretion in carrying out discovery requirements" and that "inaccuracies or errors at this stage of the proceeding should not form the basis for setting aside verdicts, unless prejudicial error is shown". Greyhound Lines, Inc. v. Miller, 402 F.2d 134 (8th Cir. 1968). Appellee contends, in her brief, that there was no prejudice and that ". . . the court placed the burden where it belonged—on appellants' counsel. It was up to them to make the necessary arrangements for an adverse medical examination, . . .". Under the facts and circumstances of this case we cannot agree.

The federal discovery rules were designed to provide each party with the fullest pre-trial knowledge of the facts and to clarify and narrow the issues to be tried. In this case, Dr. Natarajan's testimony added a significant new dimension to appellee's case. This is evidenced by the fact that he was the only medical witness called on behalf of appellee and, further, by the fact that appellee's own treating physician was called as a witness by the appellants in an attempt to minimize her injuries. From a review of the record, and the then existing fruits of their discovery efforts, appellants could not have anticipated, prior to trial, that they would have to deal with testimony supporting any serious claim for traumatic neurosis. Upon receiving notice of this claim, appellants should have been given an adequate opportunity to prepare to deal with this issue by means of further discovery and, if necessary, by obtaining an independent medical evaluation thereof and, possibly, opposing expert testimony. Upon the basis of the situation revealed by this record, the burden should not have been placed upon them to do that within such a limited period during the progress of the actual trial.

One of the primary objectives of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is to eliminate the element of "surprise" from the trial of civil cases. A fair reading of those rules requires that newly discovered evidence be disclosed far enough in advance of trial to allow the opposing party sufficient time to prepare its defense, if any. The court should have required the plaintiff to forego this new issue, and the testimony supporting it, or, if plaintiff refused, then it should have granted the defendants a reasonable continuance. See Gebhard v. Niedzwiecki, 265 Minn. 471, 122 N.W.2d 110 (1963); Greyhound Lines, Inc. v. Miller, supra. And this should be the rule even where the problem arose, as here, through the fault of none of the parties.

With respect to the second point for reversal, appellants contend that it was error of permit Dr. Natarajan to recount the history related to him by appellee and base his opinion thereon. The general rule, as stated by this court in United...

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13 cases
  • Shelak v. White Motor Co.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit
    • October 10, 1978
    ...the probability of lightning repeating its performance. Indeed, this bolt has a less likely target; in Nutt v. Black Hills Stage Lines, Inc., 8 Cir. 1971, 452 F.2d 480, an abuse of discretion for failing to grant a new trial was found, but the plaintiff was first examined by a neuropsychiat......
  • Erskine v. Consolidated Rail Corp.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit
    • March 17, 1987
    ...Oil Co., 528 F.2d 395, 404 (6th Cir.1975), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 823, 97 S.Ct. 75, 50 L.Ed.2d 85 (1976); Nutt v. Black Hills Stage Lines, Inc., 452 F.2d 480, 483 (8th Cir.1971). "[T]rial by ambush is not contemplated by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure." Woods v. International Harveste......
  • United States v. King
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit
    • June 6, 1972
    ...hands until he was tested by the government. The trial of a civil case is no longer a game of surprises. Cf. Nutt v. Black Hills Stage Lines, Inc., 452 F.2d 480 (8 Cir. 1971). There is even greater reason for fair disclosure in a criminal trial. Barring instances where disclosure would resu......
  • United States v. Hamilton
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit
    • January 26, 1972
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6 books & journal articles
  • Planning discovery
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Handling Federal Discovery - 2018 Contents
    • August 8, 2018
    ...federal discovery rules were designed to…clarify and narrow the issues to be tried.”) (quoting Nutt v. Black Hills Stage Lines, Inc. , 452 F.2d 480, 482-83 (8th Cir. 1971)). 4. Promoting just and inal resolution of disputes according to the parties’ substantive rights. Comstock Potomac Yard......
  • Planning discovery
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Handling Federal Discovery - 2019 Contents
    • August 8, 2019
    ...federal discovery rules were designed to…clarify and narrow the issues to be tried.”) (quoting Nutt v. Black Hills Stage Lines, Inc. , 452 F.2d 480, 482-83 (8th Cir. 1971)). 4. Promoting just and inal resolution. Comstock Potomac Yard, L.C. v. Balfour Beatty Constr., LLC , Civil Action No. ......
  • Planning discovery
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Handling Federal Discovery - 2021 Contents
    • July 31, 2021
    ...federal discovery rules were designed to…clarify and narrow the issues to be tried.”) (quoting Nutt v. Black Hills Stage Lines, Inc. , 452 F.2d 480, 482-83 (8th Cir. 1971)). 4. Promoting just and inal resolution. Comstock Potomac Yard, L.C. v. Balfour Beatty Constr., LLC , Civil Action No. ......
  • Exposing burdensome and abusive tactics
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Guerrilla Discovery
    • April 1, 2022
    ...Oil Co. , 528 F.2d 395, 404 (6th Cir.1975), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 823, 97 S.Ct. 75 (1976); Nutt v. Black Hills Stage Lines, Inc. , 452 F.2d 480, 483 (8th Cir.1971). See also Woods v. International Harvester Co. , 697 F.2d 635, 639 (5th Cir.1983). 101 See, e.g., DeBenedetto v. Goodyear Tire......
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