Brief Fact Summary. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied Plaintiff’s motion for a new trial. Plaintiff appealed that a new trial on the issue of damages was mandated where the jury’s verdict was inconsistent.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. In order to allow a witness to testify as an expert, the court must be convinced that the witness will rely only upon evidence that a reasonable expert in the field would rely.
Brian Mercado, age 6, was severely injured when struck by a taxi. He required institutionalization, and it was predicted that he would remain so for the rest of his life. At trial, a jury found for Plaintiff and awarded damages for pain and suffering and for medical expense. The trial court had conducted intensive voir dire to evaluate the methods employed by the putative expert and concluded that his testimony was insufficient to meet the criteria for experts. Plaintiff’s mother, dissatisfied with the judgment on the grounds that the trial court had excluded proffered expert testimony, appealed.
Issue. Did the trial court err in its exclusion of Defendant’s proffered expert testimony thus precluding the jury from awarding additional nonpecuniary damages?
Held. No. Affirmed. The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court’s conclusions in excluding the testimony in question on the grounds the 1) no consensus among experts supported the opinion under consideration; and 2) the opinion was arrived at by analyzing the behavior of non-experts.
Discussion. Points of Law - for Law School Success
The management of cross-examination is peculiarly committed to the district court's discretion. View Full Point of Law
The focus of this case is the manner by which expert testimony is evaluated and the subsequent impact its inclusion, or here, exclusion, will have on pecuniary damages assessments. The Court offered instructive articulation of the applicable standards for such evaluation. It stated first the proper grounds for ordering a new trial. “Appellate review of a district court’s denial of a plaintiff’s motion for a new trial is governed by federal law. The district court’s decision to deny a motion for a new trial will be reversed only upon exceptional circumstances showing a clear abuse of discretion. A jury verdict will not be set aside if a reasonable basis exists in the record to support that verdict.” Then, turning to the evidentiary issues, the court explained, “Damages evidence is reviewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, and a verdict will be allowed to stand unless there is no rational connection between the evidence on damages and the verdict.”
With regard to experts generally, because of the specialized skill and training needed to be a doctor, lawyer, accountant, or other professionals, courts defer to the expertise of members of the specific profession to determine the collective professional standards practiced in a particular field. Thus, expert testimony is often required as an evidentiary tool. As the court stated, “In order to allow a witness to testify as an expert, the court must be convinced that the witness will rely only upon evidence that a reasonable expert in the field would rely.” Such evidence must meet a high standard, as the court explained, “A witness who knows no more than the average person is not an expert. The theory upon which expert testimony is admitted is that such testimony serves to inform the court about affairs not within the full understanding of the average man.” Finally, when, as here, such proffered testimony does not meet the threshold requirements for expertise, it may be properly exclu
ded as the court held: “Expert testimony not only is unnecessary but indeed may properly be excluded in the discretion of the trial judge if all the primary facts can be accurately and intelligibly described to the jury and if they, as men of common understanding, are as capable of comprehending the primary facts and of drawing correct conclusions from them as are witnesses possessed of special or peculiar training, experience, or observation in respect of the subject under investigation.”