Economics Expert Witness Testimony Not Allowed in Prisoner Suicide Litigation

Summary: Economics Expert Witness testimony not allowed even though the expert argued that the decedent would reliably become a successful broadcaster if he was able to stay sober.

Facts:  This case (Lawler v. Hardeman County, Tennessee et al – United States District Court – Western District of Tennessee – October 5. 2022) involves a claim against a prison.  The plaintiff, Jerry Lawler, filed this action against the defendants, claiming that they were deliberately indifferent to Brian Christopher Lawler, after they brought him to jail after being arrested for driving under the influence.  After the deputy took Brian Lawler to jail, he committed suicide.  To assist in the case, the plaintiff hired Economics Expert Witness George A. Barrett to provide testimony.  The defendant filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.

Discussion: George Barrett’s expert witness report states that, based on a letter from Jim Ross, the decedent’s value of lost earnings is $2,189,089.  The defendants argue that Barrett’s expert witness testimony should be excluded because it is unreliable.  They state that the underlying data of which the report is based is speculative and that the calculations used to estimate the potential lifetime earnings are unreliable.

The defendants state that four facts in Ross’s letter that they say is unreliable: 1) that the decedent could maintain his sobriety; 2) that Ross had the power to hire the decedent; 3) the compensation that Lawler would have made if he was hired; and 4) the pay that Lawler would have received if his first year of employment was successful.

The court opined that Ross’s testimony assumes that the decedent would have maintained his sobriety.  This statement is unsupported speculation, which Barrett cannot use in his report.  Thus, Ross’s assumption that the decedent would have stayed sober and that his salary estimate is also unreliable.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of George A. Barrett is granted.