Appealing a Lawsuit Dismissed for Violation of the Discovery Rules

In Steinfurth v. LaManna, 404 Pa. Super. 384, 590 A.2d 1286 (Pa. Super. 1991), the Court reviewed a trial court's dismissal of the plaintiffs' action for their violation of the discovery rules. The plaintiffs had failed, first, to identify their expert witness in response to interrogatories in violation of Pa.R.C.P. 4005 (WRITTEN INTERROGATORIES TO a PARTY), and later, to produce the expert's report within sixty days pursuant to a court-approved stipulation. See Steinfurth, 590 A.2d at 1288. The defendants filed motions for sanctions. Ultimately, the plaintiffs produced the report prior to trial in sufficient time to allow the defendants to review and counter the report, but the trial court, nonetheless, dismissed their action. Although the court styled the order as one entering summary judgment, we recognized that the court had acted in response to the plaintiffs' earlier violation of the discovery rules and the defendants' motions for sanctions. See id. Consequently, the Court reviewed the matter as a sanctions case and restated a multi-factor test to be applied by trial courts prior to imposing sanctions. The Court focused our inquiry to ensure that the effect of the sanction was not disproportionate in view of the gravity of the underlying discovery violation. See id. ("However, when a discovery sanction is imposed, the sanction must be appropriate when compared to the violation of the discovery rules."). The Court stated the test as follows: We first examine the party's failure in light of the prejudice caused to the opposing party and whether the prejudice can be cured. A second factor to be examined in reviewing a sanction is the defaulting party's willfulness or bad faith in failing to comply with the discovery order, i.e., the merits of their excuse. Third, we consider the number of discovery violations. Repeated discovery abuses are disapproved. Finally, as noted above, the importance of the precluded evidence in light of the failure must be considered. 590 A.2d at 1288-89. The factors we included in the test reveal our concern only with the pattern and effect of the defaulting party's conduct in violating discovery, and have no direct relevance to the elements of the plaintiff's cause of action.