An expert who previously testified that George Huguely V did not intend to murder Yeardley Love cannot be deposed in a Charlottesville civil trial, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Huguely, then a University of Virginia lacrosse player, was found guilty in 2012 of second-degree murder in the slaying of Love, who also played lacrosse at UVa and was Huguely’s on-again, off-again girlfriend. She was found dead in her apartment in May 2010, weeks before she was to graduate.
Matthew Green, an attorney representing Huguely, argued Tuesday in Charlottesville Circuit Court for the ability to depose an expert the plaintiffs used in a separate civil trial in Maryland stemming from the same crime.
The wrongful death complaint, filed in Charlottesville Circuit Court last November, seeks compensation for assault and battery, as well as punitive damages stemming from Love’s death.
The plaintiffs — Love’s mother, Sharon, and sister, Alexis — dropped their original wrongful death lawsuit in June 2018 after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Maryland upheld a federal judge’s 2017 decision that Chartis Property Casualty Co., a holding company of AIG, did not have to pay a $6 million insurance policy to Huguely. The insurance ruling decreased possible damages available to the Loves.
According to the court’s unpublished opinion, Huguely sought coverage from Chartis as part of two policies held by his mother. After Huguely was convicted, Chartis asserted it could deny Huguely coverage because he did not cooperate in the company’s investigation after the murder, and because its policies exclude coverage for liabilities arising from criminal actions.
A federal judge agreed but did say in 2017 that State Farm Insurance was responsible for a $300,000 policy because it had a different definition of intent.
Sharon Love appealed the judge’s decision. According to court documents, Love argued that because Huguely may have been too drunk to intend a criminal act when he killed Yeardley Love, Chartis’ policy should still apply. However, the appeals court rejected that argument, saying Chartis’ policy denied coverage after both intentional and unintentional criminal acts.
On Tuesday, Green argued that he should be allowed to depose Dr. Neil Blumberg, an expert the plaintiffs used to argue in the Maryland case that Huguely had not intended to kill Love. Green said Blumberg’s opinion from the Maryland case could be beneficial to his client’s wrongful death defense.
However, Jeffrey Stedman, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, argued that a rule from the Supreme Court of Virginia prevents a retained expert from being deposed if they are not going to be called as a witness. Because the plaintiffs do not intend to call Blumberg as an expert witness, he cannot be legally deposed, Stedman argued.
“Mr. Huguely does not have a right to come in and depose our retained expert unless we plan to call him, and we certainly do not,” Stedman said.
Describing his opponent’s argument as “laughable”, Green said he intended to depose Blumberg for factual reasons, citing specifically a determination Blumberg made that Huguely had a blood alcohol content between 0.35 and 0.38 — too high to knowingly be in control of his actions.
After Huguely’s arrest, Green said his client’s BAC was not taken, though authorities did testify that Huguely filled the jail he was being held at with the “stench of alcohol.” Green said he sought to see how Blumberg determined Huguely’s BAC to such a narrow range in the absence of a test.
“His role in this case is not why he is being sought,” Green said. “He is being sought because he has information relevant to this case and is subject to discovery.”
In the end, Judge Richard E. Moore sided with the plaintiffs, granting their motion to quash the defense’ deposition of Blumberg.
Moore said the case did not meet the “extraordinary or exceptional” circumstances that would give him reason to think this kind of deposition was appropriate, per the Supreme Court of Virginia’s rules.
A week-long jury trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 2, 2020, in Charlottesville Circuit Court.