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Dallas v. Premier Vehicle Transport, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

August 23, 2017

KAREN DALLAS, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Melvin Dallas, III, deceased PLAINTIFF



         BEFORE THE COURT is the defendants' [45] Motion to Exclude the Opinions and Testimony of Dr. George Carter. The defendants contend that Carter's opinions regarding the economic value of decedent's life are unreliable. The Motion has been fully briefed. After due consideration of the submissions, the Court finds that the Motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

         The Legal Standard

         When seeking to introduce expert testimony, the offering party must show “(1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.” Huss v. Gayden, 571 F.3d 442, 452 (5th Cir. 2009). The district court serves a gatekeeping function, “ensuring that an expert's testimony both rests on a reliable foundation and is relevant to the task at hand.” Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 141 (1999). A dispute between experts over the interpretation of data does not render an expert's opinion unreliable if the opinion is otherwise grounded in a proper foundation and the expert is qualified by training, education, and experience. Kovaly v. Wal-Mart Stores Tex., L.L.C., 627 F. App'x 288, 290-91 (5th Cir. 2015). “Vigorous cross-examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and careful instruction on the burden of proof are the traditional and appropriate means of attacking shaky but admissible evidence.” Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 596 (1993).


         Melvin Dallas, III, was twenty-two years old when he was killed in the vehicle accident at issue in this wrongful death case. Mississippi's wrongful-death statute allows recovery of damages in the amount the jury determines to be just, taking into consideration all damages of every kind to the decedent and all damages of every kind to any and all interested parties in the suit. Miss. Code Ann. § 11-7-13. This statutory language provides for (1) medical and funeral costs; (2) the present net cash value of the life expectancy of the deceased if older than the beneficiaries; (3) the loss of the companionship and society of the decedent; (4) the pain and suffering of the decedent between the time of injury and death; and (5) punitive damages, when appropriate. See Jesco, Inc. v. Whitehead, 451 So.2d 706, 710 (Miss. 1984).

         The plaintiff retained Dr. Carter to provide opinions on the economic loss to Dallas' estate. Dr. Carter provided a lengthy, detailed report in which he states that the “scenario valued” is:

If not for death, Melvin Dallas would have completed a 20-year career in the U.S. Air Force, then he would have worked in a post-military typical civilian occupation for his work life expectancy. Mr. Dallas would have married at a typical age, and he would have maintained a household with his spouse for his life expectancy.

(Def. Mot. Ex. 1, at 1, ECF No. 45-1).

         The defendants object to five aspects of Dr. Carter's analysis. According to the defendants, Dr. Carter has assumed without a reasonable basis that 1) Dallas would have married and 2) had a twenty-year military career. Further, Dr. Carter 3) does not establish that Dallas received any fringe benefits, and in any event, Dallas' heirs and beneficiaries are not in the class of individuals who are entitled to receive these damages. Dr. Carter also fails to support the 4) loss of household services calculation with evidence that Dallas provided household services to his heirs and beneficiaries, or 5) loss of entitlement benefits calculation with evidence that Dallas' heirs and beneficiaries are in the class of individuals who are entitled to receive any damages for loss of these benefits.

         a. The Assumption of Marriage

         Plaintiffs argue that Dr. Carter has supported his assumption that Dallas would have eventually married with statistics from the United States Census. According to those statistics, half of American males marry by the time they reach age twenty-nine, and sixty-four percent of men have been married by the age of thirty-five. (Def. Mot. Ex. 1, at 4, ECF No. 45-1). Assuming the probability that a young person will marry appears to be Dr. Carter's established practice, and it was not disallowed by the Mississippi Supreme Court in Spotlite Skating Rink, Inc. v. Barnes ex rel. Barnes, 988 So.2d 364, 371 (Miss. 2008). As in that case, if there are individual characteristics that would take Dallas out of the realm of the average, the defendants will have an opportunity to rebut the presumption of marriage. See id. But the assumption that Dallas would have married does not render Dr. Carter's opinion testimony unreliable.

         b. The Assumption of a Twenty-Year Military Career

         Plaintiffs argue that the defendants' disagreement about whether the average military career is twenty years is simply a dispute between experts. Although the plaintiffs contend that Dr. Carter has based his assumption “on the profile of Mr. Dallas, ” Dr. Carter does not discuss any individual factors that might have impacted the length of Dallas' military career. (Def. Mot. Ex. 1, at 8, ECF No. 45-1). In their objection, the defendants argue that their expert relies on the Report of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, which shows that only twenty percent of servicemen have a twenty-year career, and less than fifty percent serve six years. (Def. Mem. 6, ECF No. 46). This issue presents a scenario opposite that of the assumption of marriage issue above, as here Dr. Carter has made an assumption of a value outside of the statistical average. Without some explanation of the basis for his assumption of a twenty-year military career, the Court cannot assess the reliability of Dr. Carter's opinion. The opinion appears to ...

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