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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 Defendant Auto-Owners Insurance Company's Motion to Exclude Plaintiff's Economic Expert, Dr. Stan Smith [Doc. 97], filed on February 13, 2017. Briefing is complete, [2] [Docs. 107, 115], and oral argument was held on June 19, 2017. The Court finds that Dr. Smith's opinion is relevant and reliable. Defendant's concerns about the accuracy of Dr. Smith's factual presumptions (e.g., that Plaintiff is completely unable to perform any of his past work or the particular percentage of alleged loss of ability to perform housekeeping services) go to the weight rather that the admissibility of the testimony. Defendant's motion will be denied, except as to one point. Although Dr. Smith may offer testimony about hedonic damages in general, he may not offer an opinion on the quantification of such damages.

         Background

         Plaintiff Melvin Smith was traveling in an automobile insured by Defendant Auto-Owners' Insurance Company (“AOI”) when it was struck from behind by a vehicle driven by a State Farm insured. 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 benefits under the underinsured motorist policy with Defendant. Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit, claiming, among other things, that Defendant's failure to pay him the additional benefits constitutes a breach of the insurance contract.[3] [Doc. 1-1].

         Analysis

         Defendant moves to exclude the testimony of Plaintiff's expert economist, Dr. Smith. [Doc. 97]. Defendant does not challenge Dr. Smith's qualifications or his methodology. Instead, Defendant urges that some of Dr. Smith's factual presumptions are inaccurate or unsupported. For example, Defendant strenuously challenges Dr. Smith's presumptions that Plaintiff cannot return to work and has a 50% loss of ability to perform housekeeping. Defendant is free to cast doubt on these presumptions through cross examination and presentation of contrary evidence. However, Defendant's concerns about Dr. Smith's factual presumptions go to the weight of the testimony rather than its admissibility. Further, the Court will allow Dr. Smith to opine about the value of Plaintiff's alleged loss of earning capacity. Lastly, although Dr. Smith may testify about hedonic damages in general, he may not give an opinion about the value (i.e., a specific dollar amount or even a range) of such damages.

         Dr. Smith may testify regarding the value of Plaintiff's alleged loss of earning capacity.

         In demonstrating that an expert's testimony is reliable, a “plaintiff 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, [a] plaintiff 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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