Actuarial tables put the life expectancy of a 31-year-old male at 46.5 more years. But when Christopher McDaniel died at 31, allegedly as a result of medical negligence, the court calculated his life expectancy at no more than six years and set damages accordingly.
What’s the explanation? According to the Ind. Court of Appeals opinion, Christopher weighed over 500 pounds, had congestive heart failure, pulmonary embolism, and hypertension, among other maladies; was an alcoholic; and didn’t take his medications. A medical expert testified at trial that in his opinion those conditions dramatically reduced life expectancy—down to two to four years, he calculated.
The trial court gave no weight to the expert’s calculation of life expectancy because the expert was unable to articulate the specifics of the calculation. But the court did give weight to the expert’s opinion on how Christopher’s overall condition was likely to affect life expectancy, leading the court to determine it unlikely that he could have survived six more years. The court set damages accordingly.
Plaintiffs appealed admission of the expert’s testimony, arguing that it violated Ind. Rule of Evidence 702(b): “Expert scientific testimony is admissible only if the court is satisfied that the expert testimony rests upon reliable scientific principles.”
On Sept. 13 the Court of Appeals unanimously rejected plaintiffs’ argument, ruling that application of Rule 702(b) is not mechanical and is within the trial court’s discretion. In light of the expert’s experience and knowledge, the court didn’t abuse its discretion by giving weight to the expert’s opinion while disregarding his calculation.
The case is McDaniel v. Robertson, Comm’r, Ind. Dept. of Insur., Case No. 49A02-1610-PL-2289 (Ind. App. Sept. 13, 2017).