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Last Modified: December 28, 2022

Bright-line Rule

Cornell Law defines bright-line rule as“an objective rule that resolves a legal issue in a straightforward, predictable manner. A bright-line rule is easy to administer and produces certain, though arguably, not always equitable results”. Free Legal Dictionary defines bright-line rule as “a judicial rule that helps resolve ambiguous issues by setting a basic standard that clarifies the ambiguity and establishes a simple response”. Moreover, “the bright line rule exists to bring clarity to a law or regulation that could be read in two (or more) ways. Often a bright line is established when the need for a simple decision outweighs the need to weigh both sides of a particular issue”

Example Sentence

The bright-line rule is used by judges when the law has more than one interpretation.

Case Study

In the case of Drew v. Lee (2011), the court used the bright-line rule in establishing whether the physician who treated Drew is qualified to become expert witness despite the failure to submit expert’s report to the court. Drew is a motorcyclist who was involved in an accident with Lee, a motorist. Drew was seeking relief from the injuries sustained in the accident and was asking the court to allow his attending physician to testify on the extent of his injuries. The court proceeded with the analysis with the case using the bright-line rule for determining whether the physicians identified by Drew as expert witness are “ treating physicians who could be exempted from the expert written report requirement as opposed to a retained or especially employed experts by parties to testify in trial who should submit expert’s written report. The court used the following questions to determine the status of the physician in question:

  1.  Why did the party visit the physician?
  2.  How proximate to the litigation was the party’s visit to the physician?
  3. Was the party sent to the physician by his or her attorney?
  4.  How did the physician’s office code the patient’s visit for insurance purposes? And,
  5.  Does the physician have a history of serving as a retained expert witness at trial?

The court concluded that Drew’s physician is exempted from filing an expert’s report since the nature of his employment as medical provider is  not similar to experts  hired for the purpose of testifying in a trial.

Other Important Information

The application of bright-line rules to the Fourth Amendment has been debated by many judges. Some judges shunned the use of bright-line rule instead focus on the totality of the circumstances. The right of a citizen against search and seizure is a different matter when the citizen is stopped by a peace officer for a traffic violation. Peace officers are required to inform the motorist that he is free to go after the reason for stopping the vehicle was concluded and that the driver’s consent is needed if the officer would ask to search the vehicle. For a detailed discussion on this case, read Ohio v. Robinette. It seems that application of bright-line rule is difficult for cases involving the Fourth Amendment since different cases may have different circumstances wherein an analysis of what transpired in totality is needed to determine violation of basic rights. See here for a more detailed illustration. Read also “A Return to the Bright-line Rule of Miranda” by Marcus.