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Smith v. Auto-Owners Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

July 25, 2017

MELVIN SMITH and STAN FOWLER, Plaintiffs, [1]
v.
AUTO-OWNERS INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          STEPHAN M. VIDMAR United States Magistrate Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgement [sic] for the Plaintiff and to Preclude the Opinion of Theodore Davis[, ] M[.]D[.] and its Memorandum in Support [Docs. 100, 101], filed February 13, 2017. Briefing is complete, [Docs. 105, 114], and oral argument was held on June 19, 2017. The Court finds that Dr. Davis's opinion is relevant and reliable. Plaintiff's challenges to Dr. Davis's opinion go to the weight, not the admissibility, of the opinion. Moreover, there are genuine issues of material fact about whether Plaintiff's injuries were caused by the accident. Therefore, summary judgment is not appropriate.

         Background

         Plaintiff Melvin Smith was traveling in an automobile insured by Defendant Auto-Owners' Insurance Company when it was struck from behind by a vehicle driven by a State Farm insured. The collision caused Plaintiff's vehicle to strike a third vehicle. Plaintiff claims that the accident aggravated a pre-existing tear to his left rotator cuff, which caused him to become completely disabled. State Farm's driver was at fault for the accident. State Farm adjusted the claim and ultimately contributed its $100, 000 policy limits to satisfy the claims of the various injured parties, including Plaintiff. As a result of the accident, Plaintiff received a payment of $26, 731.10 from State Farm and an additional $5, 000 medical bill payment from Defendant. Plaintiff contends, however, that his damages exceed the combined amounts he received from State Farm and Defendant and that he is entitled to additional money under the underinsured motorist policy with Defendant. Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit, claiming, among other things, that Defendant's failure to pay him the additional money constitutes Defendant's breach of the insurance contract.[3] [Doc. 1-1].

         Defendant has identified G. Theodore Davis, M.D., as a medical expert. In his report, Dr. Davis opined to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that, as a result of the accident, at most, Plaintiff “sustained a minor self[-]limiting neck[-]region soft tissue strain, and contusions, from which he recovered without residuals within no more than a few weeks.” [Doc. 100-5] at 18. Dr. Davis further opined that Plaintiff neither injured his left shoulder rotator cuff, nor aggravated any preexisting injury to it. Id. He opined that Plaintiff did not become disabled as a result of the accident. Id. He opined that Plaintiff's injury and disability claims were motivated, in part, by “psychosocial and secondary gain factors.” Id. Finally, he opined that even though Plaintiff had “a long history of multiple medical conditions, ” none was caused or aggravated by the accident. Id.

         In his motion, Plaintiff seeks two forms of relief. First, he moves to exclude the testimony of Dr. Davis based on Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 595 (1993). See [Docs. 100, 101]. Then, assuming Dr. Davis' testimony is excluded, he moves for summary judgment on causation. Id. Although Plaintiff's rationale is unclear, the logic seems to be that without Dr. Davis' testimony, all that remains is the testimony of Plaintiff's treating physicians, all of whom agree that his injuries were caused by the accident. See [Doc. 100] at 3-4. However, because I will deny the motion to exclude Dr. Davis' testimony, Plaintiff's argument for summary judgment is rendered moot.

         Standard

         In evaluating a motion to exclude an expert, “[t]he focus, of course, must be solely on principles and methodology, not on the conclusions that they generate.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 595. In demonstrating that an expert's testimony is reliable, the party offering the expert opinion “need not prove that the expert is undisputably correct or that the expert's theory is generally accepted in the scientific community.” Bitler v. A.O. Smith Corp., 400 F.3d 1227, 1233 (10th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Instead, [the party] must show that the method employed by the expert in reaching the conclusion is scientifically sound and that the opinion is based on facts which sufficiently satisfy Rule 702's reliability requirements.” Id.

         Rule 702 provides:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:
(a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or determine a fact in issue;
(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the ...

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