DOES A PLAINTIFF IN A WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM HAVE TO USE AN ECONOMIC EXPERT TO ESTABLISH DAMAGES?
SSometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Huffman v. Thomas, 26 Kan. App. 2d 685, 994 P.2d 1072 (1999).
This case addresses the following issue:
Does a plaintiff in a wrongful death claim have to use an economic expert to establish damages?
This is another case that explored how exactly a plaintiff can establish damages arising from the wrongful death of a loved one. Id. at 686. The particular argument made by Defendant here was that Plaintiff was required to use an economic expert to establish the nature and extent of pecuniary damages sustained from the death of his son. Id. at 691. The court determined that, just as with damages concerning loss of companionship, guidance, and assistance to Plaintiff, damages concerning lost benefits and income need not have expert testimony to be properly before the jury. Id. at 693.
Plaintiff was the father of a young man that was killed after an accident at his job. Id. at 686. Plaintiff was legally disabled, and his son had lived with Plaintiff and his wife. Id. at 692. The son helped with expenses and performed most of the household chores. Id. On the day at issue, a truck fell off a lift and pinned the young man to the ground. Id. at 686. He was transported to the emergency room, were Defendant examined him but failed to timely perform a chest x-ray. Id. at 686-87. This delay led to excessive amounts of blood pooling in the man’s lungs. Id. at 687. After an x-ray was finally performed and this was discovered, Defendant attempted to get the man into surgery. Id. However, it was too late, and the man died before the operation could begin. Id.
The Kansas Supreme Court had held that non-economic losses, such as the loss of companionship, guidance, and assistance, are not required to be proven with any “mathematical certainty.” Id. at 692. However, Defendant here was challenging economic losses, such as the lost income that Plaintiff’s son would have provided. Id. Defendant argued that an economic expert was necessary to establish the precise value of such losses, unlike emotional losses that a jury is equipped to determine itself. Id.
The court disagreed with this argument. Id. “A jury is not bound by expert economic testimony,” and there is no reason to find that such evidence must be presented for such damages to be established when the jury would be free to disagree with such testimony to make its own determination. Id. Instead, the job of the jury is to “estimate the loss,” relying on the evidence presented and using their common sense. Id. Because “there is no requirement that an economist present expert testimony” to establish any damages for a wrongful death claim, the jury had appropriately awarded damages based upon the testimony presented regarding the son’s monetary support and emotional support. Id. Thus, the verdict was upheld. Id.