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Williams v. American Family Mutual Insurance Co., S.I.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

June 17, 2019

SHAWN WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN FAMILY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, S.I., Defendant.

          ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTIONS TO STRIKE DEFENDANT'S EXPERTS

          CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on two motions filed Plaintiff Shawn Williams: (1) Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Defendant American Family Mutual Insurance Company, S.I.'s Expert Nathan Rose, M.S., (“Motion to Strike Expert Rose”) (Doc. # 24) and (2) Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Certain Opinions of Defendant's Expert Keith Oliveira, Esq. (“Motion to Strike Expert Oliveira”) (Doc. # 29) (together, “Motions to Strike Experts”). For the reasons outlined below, the Court denies Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Expert Rose but grants his Motion to Strike Oliveira.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court detailed the factual basis of this case in its Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. # 44.) That Order is incorporated by reference, and the facts explained therein need not be repeated. The Court recounts only the facts necessary to address Plaintiff's Motions to Strike Experts.

         As a result of the Court's summary judgment order, Plaintiff's sole remaining claim against Defendant is for breach of contract. (Id. at 16.) Plaintiff asserts that Defendant breached its contract for automobile insurance (the “Policy”) by denying Plaintiff's claim for uninsured motorist (“UM”) coverage after he was injured in a collision on July 1, 2015. (Doc. # 6.)

         During the course of litigation, Defendant retained an accident reconstructionist, Nathan Rose, M.S., to opine on questions of Plaintiff's negligence and comparative fault before and during the collision. (Doc. # 26 at 5.) Mr. Rose prepared an accident reconstruction report for Defendant on August 28, 2018. (Doc. # 26-4.) Defendant also retained an attorney with a knowledge of insurance industry standards, Keith Oliveira, Esq., to outline claim handling standards and practices for the jury. (Doc. # 31 at 3.) Mr. Oliveira prepared a report on Defendant's handling of Plaintiff's claim for UM benefits on September 28, 2018. (Doc. # 29-4.) Defendant has designed both Mr. Rose and Mr. Oliveira as experts. See (Doc. ## 26 at 5, 31 at 3.)

         Plaintiff filed his Motion to Strike Rose on November 28, 2018, arguing that Mr. Rose's opinions must be stricken under Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and 403 because his conclusion about Plaintiff's fault in causing the collision “is an after-the-fact attempt by Defendant to provide additional justification for denying the UM claim” and is “not relevant to the issues the jury must decide.”[1] (Doc. # 24 at 3.) Defendant responded in opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Rose on December 19, 2018 (Doc. # 26), to which Plaintiff replied on December 26, 2018 (Doc. # 28).

         Plaintiff filed his Motion to Strike Oliveira on December 26, 2018, on the grounds that Mr. Oliveira's opinions are improper under Rules 702 and 403 because they “attempt to define the law of the case” and therefore “usurp[] the function of the Court to instruct the jury on what the law is.” (Doc. # 29.) Defendant filed its Response in support of the admissibility of Mr. Oliveira's expert testimony on January 16, 2019 (Doc. # 31); Plaintiff replied in support of his motion on January 22, 2019 (Doc. # 33).

         On June 4, 2019, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 25). (Doc. # 44.) Plaintiff's claim for breach of contract survived summary judgment because Plaintiff had demonstrated a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether he and Toni Wagner, the insurance policy holder, were in a valid common law marriage at the time of the collision. (Id. at 13.) However, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's other claims-for unreasonable delay or denial of benefits under Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 10-3-1115 and -1116 and for common law bad faith-because it was satisfied that Defendant's handling of Plaintiff's claim for UM coverage was reasonable as a matter of law. (Id. at 15.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under Daubert, the trial court acts as a “gatekeeper” by reviewing a proffered expert opinion for reliability pursuant to Rule 702 and for relevance pursuant to Rule 401. See Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 589-95 (1993); see also Goebel v. Denver & Rio Grande W. R.R. Co., 215 F.3d 1083, 1087 (10th Cir. 2000).

         Rule 702 governs the admissibility of expert testimony. It provides that a witness who is qualified as an expert by “knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education” may testify if:

(a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence ...

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