Decamp et al v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Company
ORDER: Defendant State Farm Fire & Casualty Company's Daubert Motion to Exclude the Testimony of Daniel Doucette (Doc. # 47) is DENIED. With the caveat that Mr. Doucette may not offer legal opinions or conclusions, the Court declines to exclude Mr. Doucette as an expert. Signed by Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington on 9/7/2021. (DMD)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
CHRISTINE DECAMP, as Guardian
of the Property of
Timothy Decamp, Jr. and
assignee of Jasmina Woltcheck,
and CONSTANCE DECAMP,
as Guardian of the Person
of Timothy Decamp, Jr.
and assignee of Jasmina Woltcheck,
Case No. 8:20-cv-1747-VMC-TGW
STATE FARM FIRE & CASUALTY
This matter comes before the Court upon consideration of
Defendant State Farm Fire & Casualty Company’s Daubert Motion
to Exclude the Testimony of Daniel Doucette (Doc. # 47), filed
on August 9, 2021. Plaintiffs Christine and Constance Decamp,
as Guardians of Timothy Decamp, responded on August 30, 2021.
(Doc # 54). For the reasons that follow, the Motion is denied.
In this action, the Decamps, as Guardians for Timothy
Decamp, Jr., assert claims for common law bad faith, statutory
bad faith, and unfair claim settlement practices against
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State Farm. (Doc. # 1). The parties and the Court are familiar
with the facts of this case, as well as the underlying
litigation between the Decamps and State Farm’s insured,
Jasmina Woltcheck. Thus, the Court need not reiterate those
This case has proceeded through discovery and State Farm
has moved for summary judgment. (Doc. # 45). In support of
their position, the Decamps rely on the expert opinions of
Daniel Doucette, Esq. Doucette is an attorney with “more than
25 years of experience in the insurance industry consisting
litigation supervisor, vice president of claims/legal, COO,
CEO and ultimately chairman of a diverse insurance group
writing multiple lines of insurance coverage in numerous
states including the State of Florida.” (Doc. # 47-1 at 2).
He has also “spent approximately 15 years as an active trial
lawyer handling primarily insurance related matters.” (Id.).
opportunities to resolve this matter and protect its insured
from a significant excess judgment, State Farm failed to do
so contrary to the custom and practice in the industry.” (Id.
at 5). “Even if we assume there was no way to reduce the cost
of the guardianship below $15,000, we have a situation where
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the company could have settled a multi-million dollar claim
for a total payment of $65,000. There is no sane person faced
with that opportunity who would not have immediately accepted
the settlement demand.” (Id. at 8). “[I]n refusing to pay or
contribute to the expense of the guardianship to resolve this
catastrophic claim, State Farm was not acting consistent with
guardianship and special needs trust fees was not required
under the terms of the insurance policy, Doucette asserts
that “[i]t is irrelevant that the policy does not promise to
frequently pay “routine loss expenses” that they are not
required to pay under the terms of a policy. (Id.).
Now, State Farm seek to exclude Doucette’s testimony.
(Doc. # 47). The Decamps have responded (Doc. # 54), and the
Motion is ripe for review.
Federal Rule of Evidence 702 states:
A witness who is qualified as an expert by
education may testify in the form of an opinion or
technical, or other specialized knowledge will help
the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to
determine a fact in issue; (b) the testimony is
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based on sufficient facts or data; (c) the
testimony is the product of reliable principles and
methods; and (d) the expert has reliably applied
the principles and methods to the facts of the case.
Fed. R. Evid. 702.
Implementing Rule 702, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms.,
Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), requires district courts to ensure
that any and all scientific testimony or evidence admitted is
both relevant and reliable. See Id. at 589–90. The Daubert
analysis also applies to non-scientific expert testimony.
Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 147 (1999).
District courts must conduct this gatekeeping function “to
ensure that speculative, unreliable expert testimony does not
Cheminova, Inc., 400 F.3d 1286, 1291 (11th Cir. 2005).
The Eleventh Circuit “requires trial courts acting as
gatekeepers to engage in a ‘rigorous three-part inquiry.’”
Hendrix v. Evenflo Co., 609 F.3d 1183, 1194 (11th Cir. 2010).
The district court must assess whether:
(1) the expert is qualified to testify competently
regarding the matters he intends to address; (2)
the methodology by which the expert reaches his
conclusions is sufficiently reliable as determined
by the sort of inquiry mandated in Daubert; and (3)
the testimony assists the trier of fact, through
the application of scientific, technical, or
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specialized expertise, to understand the evidence
or to determine a fact in issue.
Id. The proponent of the expert testimony bears the burden of
testimony satisfies each of these requirements. Id.
State Farm does not challenge Doucette’s qualifications.
But it does challenge his methodology and the assistance of
his opinions to the trier of fact. (Doc. # 47 at 9, 13).
“Exactly how reliability is evaluated may vary from
case to case, but what remains constant is the requirement
that the trial judge evaluate the reliability of the testimony
before allowing its admission at trial.” United States v.
Frazier, 387 F.3d 1244, 1262 (11th Cir. 2004)(citing Fed. R.
Evid. 702, Advisory Committee Notes (2000)). There are four
recognized, yet non-exhaustive, factors a district court may
consider in evaluating reliability:
(1) whether the expert’s methodology has been
tested or is capable of being tested; (2) whether
the technique has been subjected to peer review and
publication; (3) the known and potential error rate
of the methodology; and (4) whether the technique
Seamon v. Remington Arms Co., 813 F.3d 983, 988 (11th Cir.
2016)(citations omitted). A district court can take other
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“If the [expert] witness is relying solely or primarily
conclusion reached, why that experience is a sufficient basis
for the opinion, and how that experience is reliably applied
internal quotation marks omitted). The Court’s analysis as to
reliability “focus[es] ‘solely on principles and methodology,
not on the conclusions that they generate.’” Seamon, 813 F.3d
at 988 (citation omitted).
authority, independent research, or experience. Instead, he
bases his opinion on the testimony of witnesses in this case
subject matter.” (Doc. # 47 at 10). State Farm emphasizes
that Doucette has not performed or read a survey regarding
how common the payment of guardianship costs is, or “point[ed]
to a statute or regulation requiring insurers to pay these
amounts, or at least point[ed] to a treatise or article or
something.” (Id.). In short, State Farm takes issue with the
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deposition testimony from this case.” (Id.).
The Court disagrees. Doucette may rely on his experience
in the insurance industry to support his methodology. See
Trinidad v. Moore, No. 2:15-cv-323-WHA, 2017 WL 490350, at *2
supplemental report, like his opinions in his earlier report,
are sufficiently reliable because they are based upon his
personal knowledge and experience.”). Indeed, Doucette has
paying for a guardianship or court approval of a settlement.
While Doucette testified that he only saw this happen in a
“handful” of cases, he testified that he had not “seen a case
where GEICO refused to do it.” (Doucette Dep. Doc. # 44-6 at
44:24-45:24). This reliance on his experience qualifies as a
sufficiently reliable methodology. See Iaffaldano v. Sunwest
Mortg. Co., Inc., No. 2:17-cv-14222, 2018 WL 310050, at *2
experience in the insurance industry, . . . which Plaintiff
acknowledges . His opinions, thus, are reliable based upon
particular methodology in arriving at his conclusions.”).
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The alleged flaws in Doucette’s methodology highlighted
by State Farm should be addressed in cross-examination. See
Maiz v. Virani, 253 F.3d 641, 666 (11th Cir. 2001)(“Vigorous
cross-examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and
careful instruction on the burden of proof are the traditional
and appropriate means of attacking [debatable] but admissible
evidence.” (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)).
Assistance to Trier of Fact
Expert testimony must also assist the trier of fact.
Fed. R. Evid. 702. “By this requirement, expert testimony is
understanding of the average lay person.” Frazier, 387 F.3d
at 1262 (citation omitted). “[T]he court must ‘ensure that
the proposed expert testimony is “relevant to the task at
hand,” . . . i.e., that it logically advances a material
aspect of the proposing party’s case.’” Allison v. McGhan,
184 F.3d 1300, 1312 (11th Cir. 1999)(citation omitted).
So, while “[t]he ‘basic standard of relevance . . . is
a liberal one,’ Daubert, 509 U.S. at 587, . . .[,] if an
expert opinion does not have a ‘valid scientific connection
to the pertinent inquiry[,]’ it should be excluded because
there is no ‘fit.’” Boca Raton Cmty. Hosp., Inc. v. Tenet
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generally will not help the trier of fact when it offers
nothing more than what lawyers for the parties can argue in
closing arguments.” Frazier, 387 F.3d at 1262-63 (citation
State Farm argues: “Doucette’s opinion that State Farm
‘could’ and ‘should’ have settled Plaintiffs’ claim by paying
Plaintiffs’ legal expenses can be taken one of two ways,
neither of which is helpful to the trier of fact.” (Doc. # 47
at 13). “First, it could be taken as testimony as to the
existence of a legal duty to pay for Plaintiffs’ legal fees.
Alternatively, it could be simply taken as testimony as to
what other insurers have done in similar situations.” (Id.).
Regarding the legal duty argument, State Farm contends
that “[t]he Court (not expert witnesses) must be the jury’s
sole source of law, and it is not helpful for them to hear
witnesses as to the same issue.” (Id. at 14). True, “[n]o
witness may offer legal conclusions or testify to the legal
implications of conduct.” Dudash v. S.-Owners Ins. Co., No.
8:16-cv-290-JDM-AEP, 2017 WL 1969671, at *2 (M.D. Fla. May
12, 2017). However, Doucette states in his report that his
opinions “are not intended to be legal opinions” and “to the
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cases], it is in [his] capacity as insurance expert not as a
legal expert.” (Doc. # 47-1 at 2). And, upon review, the Court
disagrees with State Farm that Doucette’s opinions are merely
disguised legal conclusions. Thus, the Court will not exclude
Doucette’s testimony on this basis. Still, the Court cautions
Doucette that he may not offer any legal conclusions at trial,
Doucette’s testimony crosses this line during trial.
The Court also rejects State Farm’s argument that “the
subject matter is not so specialized as to call for expert
testimony” and “Doucette’s opinion is not helpful to the jury
in deciding whether State Farm acted in bad faith.” (Doc. #
47 at 17). Doucette may offer opinions on the customs and
practices of the insurance industry and whether State Farm
complied with those practices, as this will aid the jury. See
Harrison v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., No. 2:12-cv-205-SPCUAM, 2013 WL 12158377, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 11, 2013)(“[The
expert] can testify as to disclosure of insurance information
and why reliable insurance information is important, define
insurance terminology, and talk about customs and practices
in the insurance industry.”); see also Maharaj v. GEICO Cas.
Co., No. 12-80582-CIV, 2015 WL 11279830, at *6 (S.D. Fla.
Case 8:20-cv-01747-VMC-TGW Document 60 Filed 09/07/21 Page 11 of 12 PageID 2830
Mar. 12, 2015)(“The Court finds that opinion testimony from
a qualified witness as to the claims handling standards within
actions met those standards, will help the jury understand
the evidence and determine a fact in issue. The jury does
not, however, need any assistance in applying the law to this
testimony and making a factual determination as to whether or
not GEICO acted in ‘bad faith.’”). Such opinions are beyond
the common knowledge of jurors. See Pacinelli v. Carnival
Corp., No. 18-22731-Civ-WILLIAMS/TORRES, 2019 WL 3252133, at
*6 (S.D. Fla. July 19, 2019)(finding expert testimony on
certain industry standards helpful as they were “beyond the
common knowledge of the average [layperson]”).
State Farm’s Motion is denied.
Accordingly, it is hereby
ORDERED, ADJUDGED, and DECREED:
Defendant State Farm Fire & Casualty Company’s Daubert
Motion to Exclude the Testimony of Daniel Doucette (Doc. #
47) is DENIED. With the caveat that Mr. Doucette may not offer
legal opinions or conclusions, the Court declines to exclude
Mr. Doucette as an expert.
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DONE and ORDERED in Chambers in Tampa, Florida, this 7th
day of September, 2021.
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