Experts Cannot Tell the Jury How to Decide the Case
Previously, I discussed the employment litigation case of Mootry v. Bethune-Cookman University, Inc., 41 Fla. L. Weekly D146a (Fla. 5th DCA 2015) involving a terminated professor suing the University that fired him. Check it out here. In this case, the University called an outside counsel as an expert employment attorney that advised it in the termination of the professor. The lawyer testified that in her expert opinion the University had cause to terminate the professor. The appellate court held it was error to admit this testimony because the testimony was essentially telling the jury how to decide the case, particularly, that the University did not breach the employment contract with the professor because it had authority to terminate his contract. “‘Witnesses will be prevented from expressing their conclusions when the opinion only tells the jury how to decide the case and does not help the jury to determine what occurred.” Mootry, supra, quoting Schneer v. Allstate Indem. Co., 767 So. 2d 485, 488 (Fla. 3d DCA 2000).
In another example, Schneer, the underlying issue in the case was whether the insured perpetrated a fraud in submitting an insurance claim. The insured had an expert that was going to testify that no fraud had been committed by the insured. This expert testimony was properly excluded since “it had the effect of advising the jury how to decide this case [i.e., that no fraud had been committed by the insured], rather than assisting it in determining what had occurred.” Schneer, supra.
Considering and utilizing expert testimony is an important part of civil litigation. Courts are the gatekeepers when it comes to admitting expert testimony so make sure you understand the expert opinion you are seeking and the admissibility requirements for that opinion.
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