Experts and Apportionment in Georgia: Lessons from Brown v. Tucker, Part II

Tucker was a passenger in a pickup truck driven by Brown, who struck a tractor-trailer rig parked by the road. The passenger, Tucker, sued Brown for her resulting injuries, and the jury returned a verdict of $2 million in damages, but apportioned 40 percent fault to the nonparty tractor-trailer driver and 60 percent to Brown, Brown v. Tucker, 337 Ga. App. 704 (7/5/16).

On appeal, Brown argued that the trial court erred in granting the plaintiff's motion in limine to exclude a state trooper's opinion testimony that the cause of the collision was the tractor-trailer's protrusion into the roadway, rather than Brown's inability to see where she was going.

This is the question the defendant wanted to ask the trooper:

Q: Based on your experience and training, what opinion, if any, do you have as to what the cause of this accident was?

A: Okay. The parked tractor-trailer being partially in the roadway.

The trial court excluded that question, but The Court of Appeals noted that the trooper was allowed to “testify that in his opinion, based on his investigation, the trailer that Brown struck was protruding some distance into the road, and the sun was in Brown's eyes.”

The Court of Appeals pointed out that his conclusion about those factors was a proper matter for the trooper’s testimony, but “the jury in this case did not requirean expert's opinion regarding whether the tractor-trailer's location was “the” ultimate cause of the collision,” and found no error in exclusion of his testimony about the cause, holding that:

“Although an experienced police officer can be qualified as an expert to give opinion testimony about the cause of a traffic accident, it remains settled law in Georgia that expert opinion testimony is unnecessary and improper if a jury would be able to ascertain the cause of the accident on its own and without any such testimony.”

337 Ga. App. at 707.

Brown also argued that the trial court erred in excluding evidence that Tucker had hired an expert but chose not to call him, “asserting that the jury could have reasonably inferred from Tucker's failure to call the expert that the expert's report must have beenunfavorable to Tucker.”

The Court of Appeals tiptoed around this question, as Georgia case law is conflicting, but found no reversible error:

“This court has a long line of condemnation cases addressing whether a party may place the opinions of an opposing party's former expert before the jury. We have held that such an expert is subject to subpoena regardless of who initially hired him, but that all questions relating to the expert's previous employment by the opposing party were irrelevant and inadmissible.”

337 Ga. App. at 709.

However, the Supreme Court has said in criminal cases that the State “may argue in closing that the jury may draw a negative inference from a criminal defendant's failure to call as a witness an expert whom the defendant previously hired,” 337 Ga. App. at 710.

See Blige v. State, 264 Ga. 166, 168 (2) (441 SE2d 752) (1994) (Blige 4) and Blige v. State, 263 Ga. 244, 245 (2) (430 SE2d 761) (1993) (Blige 2)

Brown’s lawyer was allowed to argue in closing that Tucker had failed to rebut the opinions presented by Brown's accident reconstructionist, and the jury allocated 40% of the fault to the tractor-trailer driver, so no harm was done by not allowing Brown to argue a negative inference from the plaintiff’s failure to call her expert, 337 Ga. App. at 711.

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