Dentistry Expert Witness’s Opinion Admissibility Depends on Reliance on Other Expert’s Opinion

The plaintiff, who worked as a dentist, was injured in a car accident. The question at hand was whether the plaintiff would be able to return to work as a dentist considering her physical limitations.

Zach Barreto

Written by
— Updated on January 6, 2022

Dentistry Expert Witness’s Opinion Admissibility Depends on Reliance on Other Expert’s Opinion

Court: United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, Louisville Division
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Momeni-Kuric v. Metro. Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co.
Citation: 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 125794

The plaintiff hired the dentistry expert witness to opine on whether the plaintiff would be able to conduct the work of a dentist in her condition.

Facts

The lawsuit resulted from an automobile accident involving the plaintiff. The plaintiff sued the other party involved in the collision. The matter was settled by paying the other party’s insurance policy’s full liability limit. The plaintiff then received  $250,000 in payment. She also had an insurance policy with the defendants. The plaintiff then sued the defendants for underinsured motorists insurance policy. The plaintiff alleged Consumer Protection Act and the Unfair Claims Settlement Practices Act violations, bad faith, and reckless abuse. The state court dismissed the defendants with prejudice.

The defendants sought to restrict the deposition of the plaintiff’s dentistry expert witness. They claimed parts of the expert’s opinions did not follow Federal Evidence Rules 701 and 702 and Daubert. The defendants maintained that the expert was unqualified to determine whether the plaintiff’s complications from the crash precluded her from working as a dentist.

The Plaintiff’s Dentistry Expert Witness

The plaintiff retained a dentistry expert witness to opine that the plaintiff could not practice dentistry due to her bodily limitations. The defendants argued that while the expert will likely be qualified to opine on the practice of dentistry, the expert lacked the training, education, and medical background to opine on whether the plaintiff could practice dentistry. The defendants argued these opinions would depend on comparing their personal experiences with the plaintiff’s physical limitations detailed in her medical records and deposition testimony. The plaintiff insisted the decision should be founded on their interpretation of their experiences as dentists with the plaintiff’s problems. The court noted Rule 702 requires professionals to compare the case details with their own knowledge and draw a conclusion.

Discussion

The court noted that such expert testimony is commonly accepted. It was wrong for the dentistry expert witness, though, to assess reported injuries to decide the plaintiff’s physical abilities. The dentistry expert witnesses were not medical doctors. However, they could rely on other experts and the plaintiff’s testimony to consider the physical deficiencies of the plaintiff.

The court cited Sturgeon v. Astrue, observing that vocational experts also rely on medical professional opinions in testifying on employment opportunities. In these cases, the qualified expert has little scientific experience to ascertain the deficiencies of the individual being examined. However, the expert may base his or her judgment on the shortcomings identified by the medical opinions. Therefore, the dentistry expert witness, like a vocational expert, could determine if the plaintiff would be able to practice dentistry based on their advanced experience and comprehension of what a practitioner needs. The dentistry expert could make that determination as long as he based his opinions on the physical deficiencies of the plaintiff on other experts’ evidence. However, the dentistry expert’s ability to testify depended on the basis of their opinions, which included other experts’ opinions.

Ruling

The motion to exclude the dentistry expert witness’s testimony was denied as premature at this stage of the case.

Key Takeaways for Experts

Offering opinions on medical facts is different than offering opinions on the physical requirements for a professional. When testifying on the physical requirements needed to perform the functions of a particular professional, an expert should have a comparable professional background and experience for the court to consider as qualified. Even with comparable experience, however, the expert needs to rely on what the medical reports indicate regarding the plaintiff’s condition in order to offer an opinion on whether or not they can continue working.

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