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A plaintiff's loss of enjoyment of life is not a subject that is sufficiently beyond common experience that the opinion of an expert would assist the trier of fact pursuant to Cal. Evid. Code § 801(a). No amount of expert testimony on the value of life could possibly help a jury decide that difficult question.
In a personal injury action arising from an automobile accident, the jury awarded Shereen Loth substantial general damages. At trial, the court admitted Loth’s expert testimony on "hedonic" damages, i.e., damages to compensate for the loss of enjoyment of life, as an element of plaintiff's pain and suffering. This expert set forth an objective baseline for the value of Loth’s life, based on factors such as the amount society spends per capita on selected safety devices, and described certain multipliers to apply to the baseline. The expert told the jury the baseline value of an average person's remaining 44-year life expectancy is $ 2.3 million. The admissibility of such testimony appears to be a question of first impression in California.
Was the expert’s testimony admissible?
The Court of Appeal reversed and remanded for a new trial on damages. It held that the expert's testimony was inadmissible. There was no meaningful relationship between the expert's arbitrarily selected figures and the value of an individual person's life. Moreover, this formula purported to impermissibly compute pain and suffering by a mathematical formula. Further, the value of Loth’s enjoyment of life was not a subject beyond the common experience of the jurors such that expert testimony was helpful. The court further held that the trial court's error in admitting the testimony was prejudicial, since it was reasonably probable that a different result would have been reached absent the error.