Auto Insurance Expert Witness and Bad Faith Expert Witness Partially Allowed to Testify in Vehicle Collision Case

Summary: An Auto Insurance Expert Witness and a Bad Faith Expert Witness were allowed to testify in part regarding a vehicle collision that led to bad faith management of insurance claims.

Facts: This case McGee v. Zurich American Insurance Company, Case No. 2:2017cv04024 (United States District Court For The District of Arizona) involves bad faith insurance claims. The Plaintiff, James McGee, claims he was injured in a car crash with the Defendant, Elizabeth Foutz. At the time of the crash, Foutz was driving a car which was provided by her employer AAA Landscaping and had insurance covered by Zurich American Insurance Company. Following the crash, details of the collision including the Defendant’s auto insurance were provided to AAA to which Zurich responded by claiming her insurance did not cover the vehicle she was driving. The question of tort damages was also brought up by the Plaintiff concerning AAA landscaping and the insurance company’s acknowledgment of the facts of the case. Beyond these claims, the Defendant brought forth their own analysis of the insurance company’s practices with the help of Charles Hewitt, a qualified Auto Insurance Expert Witness. The Plaintiff also requested Bad Faith Expert Witness Frederick Berry Jr. to testify about standards within the insurance industry. The Plaintiff sought to exclude Hewitt’s testimony and the Defendant tried to exclude Berry from speaking during the lawsuit. 

Discussion: Hewitt offered four opinions on the case that he published in a report. In this report, Hewitt argued that Zurich acted within normal industry standards when discrediting Foutz’s insurance claims because of a DUI she received in the past. Hewitt reaffirmed that proper procedure was used when disclosing this information to the company. His ultimate argument was that Foutz breached some aspects of Arizona law and company policy in terms of loaned cars and therefore the insurance company acted accordingly. The Plaintiff acknowledged that Hewitt’s testimony is of a qualified expert opinion, but lacks additional evidence or information relating to the trier of fact that would further the Defendant’s case. 

The Plaintiff, James Mcgee, expanded upon this argument by noting that the Defendant was acting on their own accord and not by the standards of normal procedures of law. The court disagreed and Hewitt was allowed to testify. The Plaintiff continued his efforts to discredit Hewitt’s argument, emphasizing that there was a lack of evidence presented to support the Defendant’s claims. Hewitt again responded and referenced his past experience in the auto insurance industry, claiming that nothing was out of the ordinary in Zurich’s methodology for exclusion from the insurance policy. The court once again sided with the Defendant and opined that Huwit’s testimony is a key aspect of the bad faith claim in the insurance dispute. 

Plaintiff’s Bad Faith Expert Witness Frederick Berry was also asked to testify. Seeking more insight into standards within the insurance industry, Berry prepared a fifty-seven page report which included his past experience in the industry, past cases for reference, facts of the case, the history of regulation regarding insurance, references to common law, his opinions of previously established standards, and how the Defendant has treated the case. The Defendant responded to the report by detailing how Berry was only an advocate and not an expert about insight into facts related to the Defendant. Zurich also opined that Berry was not qualified to speak on how the insurance industry functions as a whole. The Court disagreed with this claim and ruled that Berry was qualified to testify and would not be treated as an advocate. The Defendant continued by arguing that Berry should not be allowed to express legal opinion on broader issues within the law. The court agreed.

Conclusion: The Plaintiff’s motion to strike Charles Hewitt’s testimony was denied because his argument was significant to the case. The Defendant’s motion to deny Frederick Berry Jr. testimony was granted and denied in part because Berry was only qualified in specific aspects of insurance policy.