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Vincent v. Nelson.

No. 20-8030. 10/27/2022. D.Wyo. Judge Holmes. Wyoming Workers’ Compensation Act—Liability—Motion to Compel—Motion for New Trial—Expert Witness Testimony—Evidentiary Rulings—Affidavits.

October 24, 2022


Vincent and Nelson worked as coal-haul truck drivers at Thunder Basin Mine (the Mine), an open-pit coal mine in Wyoming. Thunder Basin Coal Company (Thunder Basin Coal) operates the Mine. One night, as Nelson drove her haul truck up and out of a coal pit, Vincent drove down into it. When Vincent saw Nelson’s truck coming in the opposite direction, he pulled over and parked his truck on the side of the road. In attempting to pass Vincent at approximately 2:30 a.m., Nelson swiped the sideview mirror of Vincent’s truck with her own and hit a tail pin that extended from his truck. A subsequent investigation by supervisors determined that Nelson was at fault, and she lost her job as a result. Over three years later, Vincent filed suit under the Wyoming Workers’ Compensation Act against Nelson and three other Thunder Basin Coal employees, alleging that he suffered serious injuries from the collision. Several months before trial, Vincent moved to compel Nelson to produce information regarding insurance coverage and Thunder Basin Coal’s obligation to indemnify her by paying a portion of the verdict. The court denied the motion. A jury found that Nelson was not liable for Vincent’s damages. Vincent filed a motion for a new trial, which the district court denied.

On appeal, Vincent argued that the district court abused its discretion by allowing witnesses to provide testimony that used an aerial photo to illustrate the accident’s location without Nelsont satisfying the applicable expert-witness disclosure requirements. Here, though designated as non-retained experts, the testimony of two witnesses pointing to the accident’s location on the aerial photo was lay testimony based on personal experience and observation and thus not subject to expert-witness disclosure requirements. Even if these disclosure requirements applied, both men testified within the confines of their designations. The third witness delivered expert testimony based on specialized knowledge of the MineStar system when he used MineStar-generated data to place the crash location on the aerial photo. This testimony was consistent with the witness’s designation and did not contradict his deposition testimony. Further, the district court did not abuse its discretion in permitting the testimony, even if the witnesses departed from their designations when testifying.

Vincent also argued that the district court erred in denying his motion to compel by concluding that the risk of confusion to the jury outweighed any probative value of the indemnity agreement he sought to introduce. In pretrial rulings, the court held that Vincent could not fully discover, introduce evidence of, or impeach regarding the Mine’s financial interest in the case. The court reasoned that because this was a liability case where the main issue was Nelson’s conduct rather than the Mine’s involvement or tangential interest as a non-party, allowing Vincent’s evidence would risk confusing the jury on the issues, delay the process, and cause the jury to decide the case on considerations other than liability. Here, the district court cited the correct legal standard before concluding that the value of the evidence was outweighed by the prejudice it would cause. Accordingly, the court did not abuse its discretion.

Lastly, Vincent contended that the district court erred in denying his motion for a new trial by striking an affidavit by a retired Special Forces officer who had experience plotting GPS coordinates onto real world locations, which was attached to Vincent’s reply brief in support of his motion for a new trial. When a motion for a new trial is based on affidavits, FRCP 59(c) requires the affidavits to be filed with the motion. And while Rule 59(c) does not categorically prohibit the filing of affidavits with reply briefs, courts have discretion to consider the affidavits. Here, the district court did not err in declining to consider the affidavit because Vincent did not file the affidavit with his initial motion, and it did not abuse its discretion by concluding that the affidavit came too late. Further, like the federal rule, Wyoming Local Rule 7.1(b)(2)(c) neither requires nor disallows affidavits in support of a reply brief, so decisions regarding the allowance of affidavits in such circumstances are left to the court’s discretion, which was not abused here.

The judgment was affirmed.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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