Exclusion of automobile appraisal expert witness affirmed by Court of Appeals of Texas

Automobile Expert Apart from having the necessary education, knowledge and/or experience, it is equally important for an expert witness to explain his methodology to the court while giving an opinion. This fact was stressed by the Court of Appeals of Texas once again when it upheld a trial court decision to exclude the testimony of an automobile appraisal expert witness.

Background of the case

Plaintiff Cory Moore purchased a “certified pre-owned” truck from Defendant Jordan Ford after learning that the term “certified vehicle” meant the truck had gone through 172–point inspection and a full history report. Later on obtaining a “Carfax” report, Plaintiff came to know that unbeknownst to him, the truck had previously been stolen and damaged. Plaintiff sued Defendant for breach of warranty, fraud, and violations of the DTPA, claiming the latter had knowingly concealed this information to induce Plaintiff to purchase the truck. Defendant moved to exclude Plaintiff’s automobile appraisal expert witness on the ground that he did not have the required qualification or experience to render an opinion and claimed that his testimony was unreliable for failure to explain methodology. The trial court sustained Defendant’s objection and granted a directed verdict. Plaintiff appealed saying the trial court had erred in striking the testimony.

Reviewing the automobile appraisal expert witness’ testimony

At the preliminary hearing, the expert did not provide a resume, but testified he had worked in car sales for approximately twenty-one years and during that time he had been involved in “hundreds” of car sales and deals. He admitted that he had never evaluated a vehicle that was not in front of him and acknowledged that he had not seen Plaintiff’s truck when it was bought.

The expert further testified that in assessing the value of the truck, he and his sales manager “pulled up a vehicle that was from that time frame and that type of vehicle and then looked it up what the value would be with it being normal and then looking at one being with the damage.” They started with a value of $24,825, which was the “NADA official used car guide” estimated value of a “clean trade-in” Ford truck similar to the one purchased by the Plaintiff, without damage. Then they made an adjustment of $5,000 because the vehicle had been stolen, and another adjustment of $2,000 for “possible frame and body damage.” Combining everything, the expert assessed the amount of Plaintiff’s damages to be $6,203, which represented the difference in value between what Plaintiff paid and what he actually received. However, when asked about how he arrived at $6,203 on cross examination, the expert replied “Just by evaluating it, the damage, the—how rough it is, I mean, just by that.” The expert also failed to give a satisfactory answer as to why he used the trade-in value instead of the retail value, since the Plaintiff had bought the truck in retail value and was not trading in it.

Conclusion by the Court

Citing Rule 702 of the Texas Rules of Evidence, the Court of Appeals held that for the admission of expert testimony: (1) the witness must be qualified, (2) the proposed testimony must be scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge, and (3) the testimony must “assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact issue.”

Assuming the expert was qualified to give an opinion on the value of Plaintiff’s truck, the Court pointed out that the expert could not explain why, in arriving at his opinion on damages, the “clean trade-in” value was used as a starting point instead of the “clean retail” value—the difference in which was nearly $4,000. He also could not sufficiently explain why $2,000 was deducted for “possible frame and body damage,” or why $5,000 was the value deducted for the vehicle’s theft history. In other words, the expert could not explain his methodology or the underlying data which formed the foundation of his opinion on damages. Thus the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ruling the expert testimony inadmissible.

** Written for the web by the EWG Editorial Team

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