Virginia: Brain Injury – a Lawyer’s Matter

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In Burns v. Gagnon, No. 110754 c/w Gagnon v. Burns, No. 110767, the $6,100,000.00 brain injury verdict on appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court, a sub-issue on admissibility of the prior action deposition is whether the current action involves the “same subject matter”. Plaintiff filed an action, non-suited, refiled, and amended in Circuit Court for Gloucester County, Virginia; taking a de bene esse deposition before non-suiting the prior action.

Plaintiff asserts that under Va. Sup. Ct. Rule 4:7(a)(7) “same subject matter” means that the “subject matter” must be substantially similar issues, not identical in every single allegation. E.g., Fed. R. Civ. P. 32(a); Rule v. Internal Ass’n of Bridge Structural and Ornamental Iron Workers, 568 F.2d 558, 568 (8th Cir. 1977)(“substantial identity of issues” under analogous forerunner federal rules); Copeland v. Petroleum Transit Co., Inc., 32 F.R.D. 445 (E.D.S.C. 1963)(“substantially the same issues”). Plaintiff asserts that the subject matter is substantially similar in the prior and current Burns/Gagnon crime victim actions; and the Judge found “substantially similar…issues”.

Significantly, the basic “subject matter” (issues) of the two actions being substantially similar does not necessarily change even where subsequent developments after the prior action deposition “could have served as a basis for more pointed and specific cross-examination, [where] the transcript does not disclose that there was any understanding on the record that [the witness] would be subject to further examination.” Tug Raven v. Trexler, 419 F.2d 536, 543 (4th Cir. 1969)(Virginia case under the analogous forerunner Federal rules). Hence Plaintiff asserts that Circuit Court for Gloucester County, Virginia, admitting the prior action deposition “on the facts as then known by counsel” in the Burns/Gagnon brain injury case is correct.