Proposed Amendments to Rules 30 and 31 Potentially Dangerous to Aviation Cases

Depositions are a central part of developing a case and preparing it for trial.  Depositions provide attorneys with their only opportunity to ask questions directly to other parties and witnesses while they are under oath and required to tell the truth under penalty for perjury.  This is a very real and significant opportunity to discover truthful information about a case that cannot be accomplished outside the context of a formal deposition conducted under oath.  This is especially important in Federal Court, because many of the most complex cases are either brought in federal court originally, or removed there  from state courts.  This is particularly true in Aviation related cases, which involve complex issues that require more time to fully question witness and which typically involve a larger number of persons.  Accordingly, limitations on the number of depositions and the time allowed per deposition under the proposed changes to Rule 30 and 31 present substantial and dangerous limitations on parties’ abilities to develop their cases.

There is often a broad spectrum of depositions that a Plaintiff will need to take in the course of a particular case.  To begin with, the other parties to the lawsuit are typically deposed.  This can require taking numerous depositions all by itself.  In a typical Aviation case, for example, there may be the following Defendants, among others:  the pilot, the airline or private aircraft owner (including its safety, training, and maintenance directors), an outside maintenance company, the manufacturer of the aircraft, and the manufacturer of the particular aircraft component that may have failed.  Moreover, in this context, litigation often involves corporate or other business entities as Defendants, which therefore requires depositions of corporate representatives under FRCP Rule 30(b)(6).  Because there might be a different corporate representative identified for each of a number of different topics listed in the Rule 30(b)(6) notices, this often entails taking the depositions of several different individuals testifying on behalf of each defendant company.   As a result, just taking the depositions of the defendants can easily result in more than the proposed five total depositions allowed per party.

There are many other witnesses that need to be deposed, however.  In addition to the other parties, any witnesses to the incident likewise are typically deposed.  This covers not only witnesses concerning what caused a particular accident, but also witnesses with regard to damages of the plaintiff.  In an aviation case, for example, this may entail numerous witnesses to the events leading up to a crash.  At the same time, there may likewise be numerous witnesses to testify as to what was found at the scene of the crash, and whether any of the passengers were alive at the time, were they in pain, etc.   Obviously, this likewise can require numerous depositions in a particular case.

In most cases, both sides will also have expert witnesses who are identified and intend to testify at trial.  This is a very important part of a case, and the parties need to depose the other sides’ experts to determine what their opinions are and to obtain any information that might be used on cross-examination of the expert.  In a typical Aviation case, for example, a Defendant’s experts may include an accident re constructionist, a safety expert, a maintenance expert, and a training expert to testify as to liability issues alone.  They likely will also have experts to testify with regard to damages issues, including an economist, a life-care planner, and a vocational/rehabilitation expert.  Again, expert witness depositions alone can easily exceed the proposed five deposition limit.

As should be evident, the number of depositions needed in typical litigation far exceeds the proposed limit of five per party under the proposed rule changes to Rules 30 and 31.  In addition, the proposed reduction in the time allowed per deposition to six hours would likewise significantly limit the ability of parties to obtain important and necessary information through depositions.  Particularly in complex cases such as those typical in Federal Court, it often takes a significant amount of time to fully conduct a deposition and discover all the information that is pertinent to the case.   In such cases, for example, documents are often an important part of a case and a deponent’s knowledge and potential testimony concerning such documents is of paramount importance.  Going through important documents and questioning deponents about those documents, however, takes a significant amount of time.  Often it is only by going through documents in detail with deponents that important information about a case is revealed and brought to light.   This further demonstrates how the proposed reduction of the amount of time available for each deposition will significantly hamper the parties’ ability to go into the necessary detail to fully discover the facts and develop their case.

Accordingly, the proposed amendments to Rules 30 and 31 present a real and significant danger to the parties’ ability to discover the facts and develop a case for trial.  Depositions are a central part of the litigation process, and the proposed changes would limit the number and time allowed for depositions far below what is typically needed within the real-world practice of Federal Court litigation.  These proposed changes would essentially prevent parties from being able to obtain the testimony of persons with vital information that is central to their case, and at the same time limit how much can be asked of those few who actually can be deposed.  In many cases, this will in effect prevent parties from being able to obtain truthful information that is necessary for their case, from being able to prepare for trial, and ultimately from being able to obtain a just result through the civil justice system.