United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MICHAEL GRIEGO, Personal Representative of the Wrongful Death Estate of ALEC J. JARAMILLO, Deceased, ANDREW JARAMILLO and TERESA ROMO, Plaintiffs,
LABERTA M. DOUGLAS, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Russell E. Douglas, and STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MATTER comes before the Court upon Defendant Laberta M.
Douglas' and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance
Company's Motion to Exclude Testimony Regarding Hedonic
Damages (Doc. 59), filed January 3, 2018. The Court,
having considered the parties' submissions and relevant
case law, concludes that Defendants' motion should be
granted in part and denied in part for the reasons set forth
September 13, 2014, Alec J. Jaramillo
(“Jaramillo”) rode his motorcycle westbound on
Santa Fe Avenue in Grants, New Mexico. Russell Douglas,
driving his vehicle southbound on that street, turned left in
front of the motorcycle, and the two collided. The collision
resulted in Jaramillo's death and the filing of this
wrongful death lawsuit.
trial in this case, Plaintiff intends to present testimony
from economist Brian McDonald, Ph.D., as to the value of
economic losses resulting from Jaramillo's death such as
lost earning capacity and loss of household services.
Plaintiff also seeks testimony by Dr. McDonald as to hedonic
damages - the “value on the life of Alec Jaramillo,
apart from Alec's earning capacity.” Doc.
64 at 2. According to his Expert Report, Dr.
McDonald's testimony related to hedonic damages will
include: (1) the concept of and meaning of value of life
damages, (2) broad areas that should be considered by the
trier of fact in determining value of life damages, (3) use
of valuation of life in other public policy context, and (4)
economic research on the value of statistical life along with
its determined reasonable range. Defendants seek to exclude
any expert testimony regarding hedonic damages under Federal
Rule of Evidence 403.
403 provides that a court may exclude relevant evidence if
its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger
of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, misleading the
jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needless presentation of
cumulative evidence. Fed.R.Evid. 403.
diversity jurisdiction case, this Court must follow New
Mexico law which does allow for the recovery of hedonic
damages. Couch v. Astec Industries, Inc.,
2002-NMCA-084, ¶¶ 17-20, 132 N.M. 631, 53 P.3d 398.
However, the Court must follow the Federal Rules of Evidence
as interpreted by federal case law on the admission of expert
testimony. See Sims v. Great Am. Life Ins. Co., 469
F.3d 870, 877-90 (10th Cir. 2006) (identifying several
instances in which a federal district court erred in applying
rules of evidence derived from state law).
damages are described as an “attempt to compensate the
loss of the pleasure of being alive.” Black's
Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014). Accurately capturing the
monetary value of the loss of enjoyment of life is most
certainly difficult, if not impossible. In their Motion,
Defendants argue for exclusion of all of Dr. McDonald's
testimony on hedonic damages on the basis that it would be
unfairly prejudicial, misleading, speculative, and confusing
to the jury. Doc. 59 at 3.
Tenth Circuit, however, has previously found expert testimony
as to the general concept of hedonic damages admissible under
Rule 403 to ensure the trier of fact did not ignore a proper
component of damages. Smith v. Ingersoll-Rand Co.,
214 F.3d 1235, 1246 (10th Cir. 2000). Such
qualitative testimony may include the general concept and
meaning of value of life damages and the areas of human
experience deserving of consideration. Id.
as to the economic research on the “value of
statistical life” and its determined reasonable range,
however, constitutes a quantitative measure. The majority
rule in this District holds that expert testimony that
“places a dollar in front of the jury in an attempt to
quantify the value of a human life, ” is inadmissible.
See, e.g., BNSF Railway Company v. LaFarge Southwest,
Inc., Civ. No. 06-1076, 2009 WL 4279849, *2 (D.N.M.
2009). This rule would exclude testimony such as
“plac[ing] the reasonable range of the value of a
statistical life in the United States at $5.0 million to $6.0
million.” Doc. 59-1 at 4. Similarly, testimony
involving numerical benchmarks for calculating present value
of any lost value of life would be impermissible. Harris
v. United States, Civ. No. 06-0412, 2007 WL 4618597, *1
neither party addressed this specific topic in their filings,
the probative value of testimony explaining how governmental
agencies use the valuation of life in the context of public
policy seems substantially outweighed by the danger of
confusing the issues. The trier of fact needs not know how
governmental agencies use such a valuation in order to grasp
its concept and apply it to the case at hand.
summary, Plaintiff fails to provide a persuasive argument as
to why this Court should depart from precedent and admit
expert testimony quantifying hedonic damages. The Court
expressly finds that any probative value of such quantifying
testimony is substantially outweighed by a danger of unfair
prejudice and misleading the jury, which collectively will be
in the best position to make such an assessment. See
Fed. R. Evid. 403. On the other hand, the risk of undue
prejudice does not outweigh the probative value to the jury
of qualitative expert testimony regarding the concept of
hedonic damages and pointing out the areas to be considered
in evaluating such damages. Thus, testimony by Dr. McDonald
on hedonic damages will be limited to those areas only.