In the context of a medical malpractice suit, the NJ Supreme Court recently held that it is not permissible to answer a specific written interrogatory question in pretrial discovery by burying the information in a document dump without citing to the specific documents that are responsive to the question. Brugaletta v. Garcia, _ N.J. _ (July 25, 2018).
New Jersey trial courts have the authority under Rule 4:17-4(d) to compel a party producing documentary records to provide, with the records, a narrative that specifies where responsive information may be found.
In this particular case, the NJ Supreme Court held that the medical malpractice plaintiff was entitled to be informed of an adverse incident related to her care in defendant’s response to pretrial discovery demands because such an incident was memorialized by various notations in her medical records. However, the defendants did not inform her of it and, notwithstanding her specific interrogatory question tailored to that request, received no specification or narrative to accompany almost 4500 pages of medical records that would lead her to the discrete yet interconnected notations of the incident that appear on 9 pages of that record.
A proper and complete response to the plaintiff’s interrogatory question requires the defendants to provide a narrative to accompany their document production, the NJ Supreme Court held.
This is an important decision that should bring an end to the proverbial “document dump”, where in document intensive cases instead of a litigant answering a question by referring to specific documents the adversary lawyer gives a generalized response that says, e.g., “See documents identified as Bates 0001 to 4900.” The expression of “looking for a needle in a haystack” could not be a more relevant analogy.
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