Tim McPoland, CPA/ABV, CVA, CFE
Court Allows Lost Profits Expert Testimony
Author: Tim McPoland
When an opposing party in a lawsuit challenges the admissibility of an expert’s testimony, the matter often comes down to one of two interpretations: whether the court believes the party’s arguments go to the admissibility of the evidence or to the weight of the evidence. The ruling in a federal district court case, BK Cypress Log Homes v. Auto-Owners Insurance Co., illustrates such determinations and highlights the need to present relevant expert testimony.
BK Cypress Log Homes sued Auto-Owners Insurance Company, alleging bad-faith conduct in the handling of a third-party claim. The defendant moved to exclude the plaintiff’s damages expert’s testimony on the grounds that his techniques weren’t generally accepted in the economic community. The expert used a two-part model, estimating lost profits with both the before-and-after and yardstick methods.
In his first calculation, he determined the plaintiff’s profit margins before and after the loss period. He attributed the difference to effects created by BK Cypress owner Jim Keeton’s participation in dispute-related activities that should have been handled by the defendant and that resulted in operational inefficiencies.
In the second calculation, the expert considered what the plaintiff’s sales would have been if the company had matched the industry average sales for the loss period. He used sales information from a log-home industry publication, as well as a “sample survey” of members of the Log Homes Council. Together, these sources yielded growth rate numbers for six companies.
Court rejects challenge
In the Florida court, the defendant asserted that the plaintiff’s before-and-after analysis wasn’t acceptable because it assumed that all loss in profitability was attributable to the defendant’s bad faith. In particular, Auto-Owners faulted the lack of data documenting:
- The amount of time Keeton spent attending to dispute-related matters, and
- The failure to account for time he would have expended on such matters even in the absence of bad faith.
The court concluded that the defendant’s criticisms should be raised through cross-examination of the expert and other witnesses regarding the assumptions underlying the damages calculation.
The defendant also argued that the yardstick analysis wasn’t acceptable because, among other things, the expert’s report didn’t establish that the businesses used to measure the losses were sufficiently similar to BK Cypress. The court denied the motion to exclude this part of the analysis — but without prejudice to the defendant’s right to exclude the testimony at trial if the plaintiff was unable to establish the survey data’s reliability through other evidence.
Rebuttable witness also rebuffed
Notably, the court also rejected the testimony of the defendant’s financial expert because he didn’t provide an estimate of damages. It characterized that expert’s testimony as a rebuttal opinion that failed to offer an alternative analysis methodology.
In the end, the court decided that the defendant’s expert’s testimony wouldn’t aid the jury in determining damages and would in fact be “redundant and unduly prejudicial.” Instead, the defendant was instructed to explore the criticisms in its expert’s report during cross-examination of the plaintiff’s expert and other witnesses.
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