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Mills v. Dortch

Decided: May 25, 1976.

ALTON MILLS AND MAGGIE MILLS, HIS WIFE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
JOSEPH DORTCH, M.D., ELMER COMMUNITY HOSPITAL, K. DURAND, L. CERACIANO AND F. MCGONIGAL, DEFENDANTS



DeSimone, J.c.c., Temporarily Assigned.

Desimone

Plaintiffs move for leave to take the de bene esse videotape deposition of their expert, Dr. Eugene Klochkoff. They propose to use his testimony in their medical malpractice action against Dr. Dortch.

Dr. Klochoff is a practicing gynecologist residing in the City of New York. He neither treated nor examined Maggie Mills, the alleged victim of the malpractice; however, after reviewing the matter he advised plaintiffs' attorney that he would render an opinion with regard to the applicable standard of care and whether defendant Dortch deviated therefrom. Apparently, after rendering a written opinion, Dr. Klochkoff advised plaintiffs' attorney that because of the nature of his practice, the interests of his patients would suffer if he was forced to leave the immediate area of New York for any length of time, and that he would not travel to Southern New Jersey to testify at trial.*fn1

Our rules (R. 4:16-1) provide for the use of a deposition at trial under the following circumstances:

At the trial * * * any part or all of a deposition, so far as admissible under the rules of evidence applied as though the witness were then present and testifying, may be used in accordance with any of the following provisions:

(c) The deposition of a witness, whether or not a party, may be used by any party for any purpose, against any other party

who was present or represented at the taking of the deposition or who had reasonable notice thereof if the court finds that the appearance of the witness cannot be obtained because he is * * * out of this state or because the party offering the deposition has been unable in the exercise of reasonable diligence to procure his attendance by subpoena, provided, however, that the absence of the witness was not procured or caused by the offering party. The deposition of an absent witness may also be so used if, upon application and notice, the court finds that such exceptional circumstances exist as to make such use desirable in the interest of justice and with due regard to the importance of presenting the testimony of witnesses orally in open court.

Here, as in the leading case of Ross v. Lewin , 83 N.J. Super. 420 (App. Div. 1964), the combination of the witness' absence from the State, unprocured by the offering party, and the existence of exceptional circumstances compel the granting of plaintiff's motion. In Ross v. Lewin , the Appellate Division found no error in admitting into evidence the deposition of plaintiff in the form of answers to written interrogatories. Plaintiff was a "busy California attorney * * * about 3000 miles distant from the scene of trial. Thus, his being out of State and at such a great distance satisfied both the 'out of the State' condition and the 'exceptional circumstances' provision." Ibid. , at 423.

Dr. Klochkoff is out of the State, and thus not subject to New Jersey process under the circumstances here. While he is not as far removed from the State as the California plaintiff in Ross, the absolute distances are relative. Given the constant emergent nature of his practice, one day away from his office may present as great a hardship to Dr. Klochkoff as one week away from his practice may have presented to the California attorney in Ross.

Defendant argues that by voluntarily choosing an out-of-state expert, plaintiffs have "procured" the absence of the witness from the State and thus cannot be heard to argue for the application of R. 4:16-1(c). However, the court is satisfied that plaintiffs did not knowingly engage an expert witness who would refuse to attend the trial, but rather were unaware of said expert's refusal until after the

expert's report had been rendered. Under these circumstances, plaintiffs cannot be said to have "procured" Dr. ...


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