·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Lawsuits & Litigation

Why Admission of Liability Does Not Allow Defendants to Take Away Patients’ Right to Conduct Discovery

— July 21, 2021

One order said participation would only “annoy, embarrass, and unduly burden” the physicians.

On occasion, our firm has negligence cases where the responsible parties admit liability. While the defendant always has the prerogative to admit liability that should never impede the ability of plaintiffs to obtain discovery and learn the truth of what actually occurred. 

We recently had two cases where hospitals admitted liability but were also adamant that that admission excused them participating in depositions. The first case involved an infant who, while undergoing cardiac surgery at University of Michigan, was subjected to intraoperative hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which resulted in severe brain damage. The second case involved an infant in the neonatal unit of Beaumont Hospital whose death was caused through multiple documented errors and the improper use of equipment to re-inflate her collapsed lung which resulted in its puncture and laceration. 

In both cases, the hospitals tried to bar us from taking depositions going so far as to seek protective orders from the court to prevent us from doing do. One order said participation would only “annoy, embarrass, and unduly burden” the physicians. These actions ignored the rights of the parents and prevented due process. In both cases, judges thwarted the defendants’ efforts to avoid participation in the discovery process.

Logo for McKeen & Associates; image provided by McKeen & Associates.
Logo for McKeen & Associates; image provided by McKeen & Associates.

Depositions and the discovery process is not conducted to “annoy or embarrass” the defendant. In reality, the reasons for participation in the discovery process, regardless of admission of liability are significant: 

  1. The most important reason is that the families of the injured party have a right to understand what happened. This closure is emotionally meaningful for those grieving the loss of a loved one or dealing with a loved one’s serious, lifetime disability. 
  2. It’s essential to understand who is actually responsible. Nobody wants to sue someone who is not culpable. Families want people responsible held accountable but do not want to embroil someone in a lawsuit who is not involved in the injury.
  3. Sometimes there are coverups or other misconduct surrounding the incident. Such activities – which could result in exemplary damages for the family – need to be discovered to best serve the client. 
  4. Legal counsel is entitled to discovery if there is basis for an ordinary negligence claim, which is not subject to damage caps. 
  5. The plaintiffs are entitled to discovery if there may be a product liability claim surrounding the incident. 

The bottom line is that an admission of liability does not, and never should, preclude the liable parties from participating in the legal discovery process. There are compelling legal and humanitarian reasons to do so. We argued this in court and the judge agreed with us. We will pursue the truth in these matters for our clients’ benefit. 

Join the conversation!