Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Collins v. Safeco Insurance Co. of Indiana

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

January 8, 2020

WILLIAM COLLINS, Plaintiff,
v.
SAFECO INSURANCE COMPANY OF INDIANA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          BRANTLEY STARR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This action alleges that defendant Safeco Insurance Company of Indiana (Safeco) failed to pay the plaintiff William Collins under its insurance policy for roof damage caused by a hailstorm. Safeco moved to strike three of Collins's experts [Doc. Nos. 37, 39, & 41], and Collins moved to strike one of Safeco's experts [Doc. No. 43]. Upon consideration, the Court GRANTS Safeco's motion to strike Earl Stigler, DENIES Safeco's motion to strike Derek Steiner, and DENIES Safeco's motion to strike David Hastings. Lastly, the Court GRANTS Collins's motion to strike Gary Boyd. As this order affects the substance of Safeco's arguments for its motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 32], the Court orders Safeco to file an amended motion for summary judgment within 14 days of the issuance of this order. When Safeco files the amended motion for summary judgment, the Court will dismiss as moot the original motion for summary judgment.

         I.

         On or about December 26, 2015, a hailstorm hit the Desoto, Texas area and damaged the roof of Collins's house. Collins filed a claim on his Safeco insurance policy, requesting payment for the damage. Safeco investigated the claim, prepared a report, and decided to either deny or underpay the claim. Safeco later agreed to investigate the matter further through an appraisal process, which appraised the damage to be $116, 549.35 for replacement cost value and $78, 890.75 for actual cost value. Safeco did not pay the claim, contending the damage to the roof is cosmetic. Therefore, Safeco excluded roof damage from the policy.

         On June 6, 2018, Collins filed a petition in the 192nd Judicial District Court in Dallas County, Texas, alleging that Safeco's failure to pay his insurance claim violated the Texas Insurance Code and breached their contract. Safeco subsequently removed the case to this Court on July 11, 2018 [Doc. No. 1]. Since then, Safeco has filed a motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 31] and motions to strike three of Collins's experts, while Collins has filed a motion to strike one of Safeco's experts.

         II.

         Before the Court are Safeco's and Collins's motions to strike experts. Federal Rule of Evidence 702 governs the admissibility of expert testimony as evidence. As a preliminary matter, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2), a party disclosing a non-retained expert[1] must disclose the subject matter on which the witness is expected to present evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and a summary of the facts or opinions to which the witness is expected to testify.

         Rule 702 permits opinion testimony from a witness “‘qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education' if the expert's knowledge will assist the trier of fact and (1) ‘the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data,' (2) ‘the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods,' and (3) ‘the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.'”[2] This Court, in performing its gatekeeper function, must permit only reliable and relevant testimony from qualified witnesses to be admitted as expert testimony, as reflected in Rule 702.[3] The “party offering the expert testimony must prove by a preponderance of evidence” that the testimony is “reliable and relevant.”[4]

         However, this gatekeeper function applies to the admissibility of expert testimony and not to its weight, which “should be left for the jury's consideration.”[5]Indeed, “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.”[6] Generally, “questions relating to the bases and sources of an expert's testimony affect the weight to be assigned that opinion rather than its admissibility.”[7]

         Whether an expert is qualified to testify is a question of law.[8] As noted in Rule 702, the witness must be qualified by virtue of his “knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.” An expert does not need to be “highly qualified in order to testify about a given issue.”[9] Differences in expertise chiefly concern the weight to be assigned to the testimony by the trier of fact and not its admissibility.[10] Even so, “a district court should refuse to allow an expert witness to testify if it finds that the witness is not qualified to testify in a particular field or on a given subject.”[11]

         Expert testimony is relevant if it goes to assisting the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.[12] Federal Rule of Evidence 401 further clarifies relevant evidence as that which has “any tendency to make any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.”[13]

         Expert testimony is reliable if “the reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is scientifically valid.”[14] Such testimony must be “more than subjective belief or unsupported speculation.”[15] In other words, this Court need not admit testimony “that is connected to existing data only by the ipse dixit of the expert.”[16]The Court also does not need to admit testimony based on indisputably wrong facts.[17]In conducting its analysis, the Court focuses on the reasonableness of the expert's approach regarding the matter to which his testimony is relevant and not on the conclusions generated by the expert's methodology.[18] The Court normally analyzes questions of reliability using the five nonexclusive factors known as the Daubert factors.[19] These factors may not be pertinent “in assessing reliability, depending on the nature of the issue, the expert's particular expertise, and the subject of his testimony.”[20]

         The Daubert factors are not too helpful in assessing the experts' methods in this case. And as neither party has briefed these factors in any of the motions at issue, the Court will evaluate the experts' methodologies based off the parties' briefing and their arguments on whether the experts' testimony complies with the general Daubert standards.[21]

         A.

         Collins has designated Stigler, an insurance claims adjuster, as an expert to opine on the reasonableness of Safeco's investigation and handling of Collins's roof damage insurance claim. Safeco argues, among other things, that Stigler's expert designation and report should be struck because Stigler's testimony on this matter is unreliable.

         The Court finds that Collins has not met its burden of proof to show that Stigler's testimony is reliable. To do so, Collins must show that “the reasoning or methodology” underlying Stigler's testimony is “scientifically valid.”[22] Here, there is no discernible methodology to evaluate. The reliability of Stigler's opinions, as stated in Collins's expert disclosures, is derived solely from Stigler's own experience as a claims adjuster. Also, Stigler in his expert report does not cite to any guidelines, training or certification, or any other authoritative source on the proper methodology for investigating a roof damage claim.[23] Without such citations, Stigler's opinion on how to handle Collins's roof damage claim amounts to “subjective belief or unsupported speculation” and is thus ipse dixit.[24]

         Collins argues that Stigler's opinion is not mere ipse dixit because he bases his opinion on the claim file, the Safeco insurance policy, correspondences, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather data, the roof tile manufacturer's specifications, the public adjuster's file and Stigler's own extensive experience adjusting similar claims. This argument misses the point. The issue here is not the reliability of the facts in the file Stigler had but rather the reliability of Stigler's methodology in analyzing those facts. As explained above, Collins has not met his burden of proof to show that Stigler's methodology is reliable. For these reasons, the Court hereby GRANTS Safeco's motion to strike Stigler's expert designation and report.

         B.

         Collins has designated Steiner, a roofing contractor, as a non-retained expert to opine on whether the roof damage was cosmetic or functional, the appropriateness of the appraisal award amount, and the date on which the hailstorm causing the roof damage occurred. Safeco moves to strike Steiner's expert designation because Collins's expert disclosures did not meet the standard set out in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2)(C) for non-designated experts. Safeco further contends Steiner is unqualified to testify on whether the roof damage was cosmetic or functional and that his testimony is unreliable. Lastly, Safeco argues that Steiner's testimony on the appraisal award and the date of the hailstorm is irrelevant.

         The Court finds that Collins's has met the Rule 26(a)(2)(C) disclosure standard for Steiner, has demonstrated that Steiner is qualified, and has met his burden to show that Steiner's testimony is reliable and relevant.

         First, Collins's expert disclosures for Steiner meet the Rule 26(a)(2)(C) requirements. The disclosures stating that Steiner will opine that the hailstorm occurred on December 26, 2015, that the appraisal award amount was appropriate, and that the damage done to the roof was functional and not cosmetic. The disclosures further summarize that Steiner inspected Collins's roof shortly after the hailstorm and was present during Safeco's inspections.

         Safeco argues that Collins does not meet the Rule 26(a)(2)(C) disclosures because he fails to provide the basis of Steiner's opinion that the damage to Collins's roof is functional. But that is not what Rule 26(a)(2)(C) requires. The rule requires a summary of the “opinions to which the witness is expected to testify” and says nothing about providing the bases of those opinions. As noted above, Collins has listed the opinions Steiner will testify on. Thus, Collins has met his Rule 26(a)(2)(C) disclosure requirements.

         Second, Steiner is qualified to testify on whether damage to Collins's roof is cosmetic or functional. According to his declaration, signed on July 30, 2019, Steiner is a roofing contractor with 12 years of experience in installing roofs and inspecting damaged roofs, including those damaged by hail. Steiner stated in his deposition, on July 24, 2019, that he is HAAG certified, which means he received specialized training to assess roof damage, and is also certified by the International Code Council, which provides training on the mechanics of roofing. Both of these credentials have industry recognition.[25] Due to these credentials and his experience, the Court finds Steiner is qualified to testify as to assessing roof damage, and to the proper methods of doing so, by virtue of his “knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.”[26]

         Safeco argues that Steiner is not qualified to testify because he has never authored or spoken about cosmetic versus functional roof damage and that he cannot assess damage to metal roof tiles because he is not a metallurgist. Safeco further argues Steiner is unqualified because it finds several of Steiner's sources he relies on questionable. Regarding book deals, speaking engagements, and metallurgist training, Safeco's complaints go to the level of Steiner's expertise. Such differences go to the weight to be assigned to the testimony by the trier of fact and not to its admissibility.[27] An expert does not need to be “highly qualified in order to testify about a given issue.”[28] Regarding Steiner's sources, questions relating to the sources of an expert's testimony generally affect the testimony's weight rather than its admissibility.[29] This issue also goes to the level of Steiner's expertise.[30] Safeco will have its chance to make its case that Steiner's sources are questionable in the courtroom. Steiner's experience, along with his HAAG and International Code Council certifications, show Steiner is qualified to testify as to roof damage by virtue of his “knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.”[31]

         Additionally, Steiner's testimony on whether the damage to Collins's roof was functional or cosmetic is sufficiently reliable to be admissible. Although Steiner bases his testimony on his own experience, he also states in his deposition that he relies on the standards he learned pursuant to his HAAG and International Code Council certifications. Reliance on these certifications demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence the reasonableness of Steiner's approach and moves his testimony beyond “subjective belief or unsupported speculation” to “scientific validity.”[32] The Court finds that Collins has met his burden of proof to show Steiner's testimony is reliable insofar as the evidence shows Steiner is relying on his experience and certifications.

         Safeco also alleges Steiner's testimony relies on indisputably wrong facts and misrepresents Safeco's investigation of Collins's roof. Relating to the facts, Safeco points to Steiner's deposition and argues that Steiner bases his testimony on the belief that the damage to the roof caused interior leaks, even though an April 15, 2019 deposition by the homeowner Esther Collins reveals that no such leaks occurred. But Steiner does not base his testimony that the roof had functionable damage on any perceived interior leaks. Although Steiner believed there was interior leaking, when asked what caused the leaks, he responded that “it was not able to be determined.”[33]As such, Safeco has not shown that Steiner has based his testimony on incorrect facts.[34] Relating to misrepresenting Safeco's investigation, Safeco alleges Steiner wrongfully asserted Safeco did not investigate the underside of the roof shingles. In determining reliability, the Court does not focus on the conclusions generated by the expert's methodology but rather on the reasonableness of the expert's approach.[35]Safeco's complaint relates to a factual conclusion and not to Steiner's methodology or reasoning and so does not raise a genuine issue as to reliability.

         Finally, Steiner's testimony on the date of the hailstorm and the appropriateness of the appraisal amount is relevant insofar as it will assist the trier of fact in understanding the evidence concerning whether Safeco should have paid out Collins's insurance claim.[36] Relating to the hailstorm date, Collins contends that Safeco's experts allege in their reports that the hailstorm occurred over two years before the date Collins alleges. Regarding appraisal, Collins contends the appraisal award does not delineate what amount of the appraisal is for cosmetic versus functional damage. Collins wants Steiner to testify on what that delineation should be. These issues are both relevant insofar as they assist the trier of fact understand the evidence as to whether Collins should have been paid under the Safeco insurance policy. How much of the appraised damage is cosmetic versus functional affects how much Collins may be entitled to and the date the hailstorm occurred could impact the trier of fact's assessment of Safeco's investigation and whether Collins qualified for coverage. Thus, Steiner's testimony on these matters is relevant.

         Safeco argues Steiner's testimony on these matters is irrelevant because Safeco does not dispute these facts and so there is no fact issue here. However, for the reasons stated above, Collins maintains these disputes do exist and that Steiner's testimony would assist the trier of fact in resolving them. The Court agrees with Collins. If there truly ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.