Trying a case pro se can be very difficult. Being a lawyer requires an extensive amount of knowledge regarding legal rules and courtroom procedure. Much of the knowledge can only be gained through years of experience. If you have been injured in a car accident, you are recommended to speak with an attorney with years of car accident litigation experience.
Recently, a Tennessee appellate court patiently heard an appeal brought by pro se litigants in Al-Athari V. Gamboa and Morgan Southern, Inc. One of the plaintiffs in the case, a Ms. Al-Athari, was injured in an accident with another driver, Mr. Gamboa. Gamboa was driving a tractor trailer as an employee of Morgan Southern. The Al-Atharis, husband and wife, filed a complaint against Gamboa and Morgan Southern for medical injuries incurred from the car accident. According to records, Gamboa was never served a complaint, so the case proceeded exclusively against Morgan Southern. The plaintiffs had two attorneys during the course of the case but both attorneys had withdrawn. The plaintiffs filed and were granted a motion to represent themselves as pro se litigants.
Prior to the trial, the plaintiffs missed the deadline for medical depositions in the Scheduling Order. Then Morgan Southern brought a motion in limine to exclude medical testimony or documentation concerning medical diagnosis or treatment. The plaintiffs did not appear for this motions hearing, and the lower court granted the motion.
A week before the trial the plaintiffs filed a motion for continuance, stating that Ms. Al-Athari needed to finish her medical treatment. The motion was denied. On the day of the trial, the plaintiffs asked the trial judge if they had the right to remain silent. The trial judge explained to the plaintiffs that they didn’t have to speak, but their silence might be used against them. The plaintiffs then asked to go home as they were not prepared. At that point the judge dismissed the case without prejudice and explained to the plaintiffs that they had one year to refile.
The pro se plaintiffs filed an appeal, but did not specify which rulings they wished to appeal. Nevertheless, the appeals court examined the motion to exclude medical experts, several motions in limine, the motion for continuance, and the dismissal. Morgan Southern also requested sanctions from the plaintiffs for the filing of a frivolous appeal.
Motion to Exclude Medical Expert
The appeals court noted that plaintiffs did not appear at the motions hearing, never asked to have the Scheduling Order for medical depositions extended, and did not present any arguments explaining how the lower court abused its discretion. The appeals court affirmed the lower courts motion to exclude medical testimony.
Three Motions In Limine
At the trial, the trial judge had granted Morgan Southern three motions in limine: (1) the exclusion of Mr. Gamboa’s legal status in the United States or the process by which Morgan Southern hired Mr. Gamboa, (2) exclusion of any offers of compromise or settlement or statements made during the parties’ attempted mediation, and (3) exclusion of Morgan Southern’s liability insurance coverage. The appeals court noted that the plaintiffs did not present any evidence that the trial court abused its discretion, and these were normal dismissals for a court.
Motion for Continuance
The appeals court again noted that the plaintiffs did not present any evidence that they were denied a fair trial. Furthermore, the court recognized that the motion to exclude medical testimony precluded the plaintiffs from bringing any evidence the medical treatments required continuance. The appeals court affirmed the lower courts failure to grant a continuance.
Dismissal of Complaint
Noting Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 41.02, the court recognized that the trial court has discretion to dismiss a claim that a plaintiff fails to prosecute. At trial, the plaintiffs indicated that they did not want to go forward with the case, they had no evidence to submit, and they wanted to go home. The court noted that the trial judge dismissed without prejudice giving the plaintiffs a chance to refile, which the trial judge explained to the plaintiffs. Again noting no evidence the trial court abused its discretion, the appeals court affirmed the dismissal.
Sanctions for Frivolous Appeal
The Al-Atharis did not comply with the deadlines the trial court set in the Scheduling Order, they had no competent medical proof to support their claims for relief, and they informed the court on the day the case was set for trial that they did not wish to proceed with their trial. The appeals court found reason for sanctions for a frivolous appeal remanded the case back to the trial court to determine the damages.
The case may be an extreme case of a pro se litigant, because the judges involved at every level were very patient in this case. However, a judge’s patience will only carry you so far.
Areas of knowledge, like the rules of evidence, civil procedure, and the legal process, can be seen as difficult and foreign concepts. These rules were created over time to provide for a fair and speedy trial. An understanding of many of the rules can only be gained through trial experience, and it is recommended that, if you are going to hire an attorney, hire one with extensive car accident litigation experience.
If you have been involved in a car accident due to the negligence of another driver, contact Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. at (865) 524-5657.
Al-Athari v. Gamboa and Morgan Southern, Inc., Dec. 30, 2013, Court of Appeals of Tennessee
Pro se legal representation in the United States, 2014, Wikipedia.org
More Blog Entries:
Supreme Court of Tennessee Affirms Non-Economic Damages for Child’s Car Accident Injuries — Meals v. Ford Motor Co., Nov. 27, 2013, Knoxville Injury Lawyer Blog
Mills v. Fulmarque Illustrates Time Limitations in Knoxville Injury Claims, Mar. 28, 2012, Knoxville Injury Lawyer Blog