On January 1, 2013, California Code of Civil Procedure Section 2025.290 will become effective limiting plaintiff depositions in most civil cases to no more than seven (7) hours over two days, or 14 hours of total testimony.
Previously there were no state-wide statutory limits on the length of plaintiff depositions. This omission in the law often allowed defense counsel to subject plaintiffs to prolonged and repetitive questioning, causing undue stress and exhaustion.
The new law was motivated by the plight of John Johnson, a 68 year-old veteran of the U.S. Marines and retired plumber who was diagnosed with mesothelioma and filed a lawsuit against the companies responsible for his asbestos exposure in October 2011. In the case, we presented a declaration from Dr. Robert Cameron imploring the court to limit Mr. Johnson’s deposition to 12 hours, as Mr. Johnson was a stage III patient who had just emerged from an 11 hour surgery and was undergoing post-surgery radiation. Dr. Cameron warned the court that interrogation in excess of 12 hours would “hasten his demise.” The court limited the deposition to 20 hours but later granted another 5 hours over our objections and a second declaration from Dr. Cameron.
The deposition began on December 19, 2011 and, after 10 sessions conducted over 35 days, was concluded on January 23, 2012. As predicted by Dr. Cameron, the rigors of the process produced a dramatic decline in Mr. Johnson’s condition. Knowing that unless he completed the mandated 25 hours, none of his testimony could be used in the lawsuit which would be his wife Sue’s only source of financial support, Mr. Johnson could not be deterred from finishing the job. Mr. Johnson passed away less than 24 hours after completing the deposition.
This unfathomable, but not unanticipated, result was a rallying call for Worthington& Caron, P.C. and other plaintiffs’ attorneys who had long sought to impose reasonable limits on defense deposition questioning. Working together with the support of Mr. Johnson’s wife, Sue Johnson, the effort gained media attention and finally the support of key California lawmakers. The measure was passed by the California legislature on August 29, 2012 and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on September 17, 2012.
As 2012 comes to an end, we reflect back on the tragic events involving John Johnson and extend our warmest and sincerest wishes to his family as they spend their first Holiday season without him. We hope they find some satisfaction in knowing that their government took notice of their nightmare and acted quickly and decisively to keep other Californians from enduring it in the future.
Section 2025.290 is a long-overdue measure which provides a defense to the basic civil liberties of asbestos cancer patients and other seriously injured plaintiffs. These are people for whom time is precious. They want to get well. They can’t work. They have mounting bills. They weren’t looking for a lawsuit but, like John Johnson, have no other potential source of financial resources. We applaud the California legislature and Governor Brown for the protections that injured plaintiffs will get to begin enjoying in the New Year!
John M. Caron
December 20, 2012