plaintiff entitled to a potential bias jury instruction when fact witness called by defendant receives a fee much higher than the minimum fee required by cplr 8001.
The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Pigott, determined that the plaintiff in this personal injury action was entitled to a potential bias jury instruction. The fact witness subpoenaed by the defendant (CSI) was paid $10,000 and the high fee was not explained:
Plaintiff testified that she stepped into a “dip in the trench” that caused her to fall. To rebut this testimony, CSI subpoenaed a physician who had treated plaintiff in the emergency room shortly after the accident. The doctor was called merely as a fact witness to testify concerning his entry in the “history” section of his consultation note that plaintiff “tripped over a dog while walking last night in the rain” (emphasis supplied). He testified consistently with his documented note. During cross-examination, plaintiff’s counsel elicited from the doctor that CSI had paid him $10,000 for appearing and testifying. The doctor denied that his testimony was influenced by the payment, stating simply that he was there to “testify[ ] to my records.” His testimony consisted only of his verification that he made the entry into the emergency room record. No professional opinion was sought nor given. Plaintiff’s counsel requested that the court strike the doctor’s entire testimony or, in the alternative, issue either a curative instruction or a jury charge concerning monetary influence.
The following day, before summations, plaintiff’s counsel asked that the court charge the jury that, pursuant to CPLR 8001, the doctor, as a fact witness, was entitled to a witness fee of $15 per day and $.23 per mile to and from the place where he was served with the subpoena. Defense counsel countered that the witness fee was the statutory minimum and that [*3]there was no prohibition against paying a fact witness for time missed from work. * * *
We agree with plaintiff that Supreme Court should have issued a bias charge specifically tailored to address the payment CSI made to the doctor. Supreme Court generally instructed the jury that bias or prejudice was a consideration that it should consider in weighing the testimony of any of the witnesses, but this was insufficient as it pertained to CSI’s payment to the doctor. To be sure, Supreme Court properly acted within its discretion in concluding that the fee payment was fertile ground for cross-examination and comment during summation. But because CSI did not even attempt to justify the $10,000 payment for one hour of testimony, Supreme Court should have also crafted a charge that went beyond the CPLR 8001 requirements. Supreme Court should have instructed the jury that fact witnesses may be compensated for their lost time but that the jury should assess whether the compensation was disproportionately more than what was reasonable for the loss of the witness’s time from work or business. Should the [*5]jury find that the compensation is disproportionate, it should then consider whether it had the effect of influencing the witness’s testimony (see PJI 1:904) … . Caldwell v Cablevision Sys. Corp., 2013 NY Slip Op 00783 [20 NY3d 365], CtApp 2-7-13