Hedonic Damages Expert Not Worth Plaintiff’s Money

A recent Hudson County Superior Court decision affirmed a prior New Jersey rulings that an expert testifying to hedonic damages should be barred.  In Johnson v. Redd, the plaintiffs sought to introduce expert testimony from Stanley V. Smith, Ph.D., to support their claims for loss of the pleasure of life ( i.e., hedonic damages).  The defendants filed a motion in limine to bar the testimony, arguing that it was not proper under New Jersey law.

The court held an admissibility hearing and reviewed not only New Jersey law on this issue, but also case law dealing specifically with Dr. Smith, the result of which was a decision wholly barring Dr. Smith’s testimony.

The decision from Judge Sarkisian places great emphasis on the lack of reliable methodology used in calculating the loss of life’s pleasure, and questions whether or not such an analysis is a topic that even needs an expert.  Several years ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court stated in Dehanes v. Rothman, 158 N.J. 90 (1999), (albeit in dicta), that expert testimony is not permitted where the expert seeks to quantify non-economic damages.

Here, in his Johnson opinion, Judge Sarkisian concluded that it does not exceed the average juror’s ability to assess this type of damages based on his or her own experiences and knowledge; accordingly, this is not a subject for which expert testimony can be offered.  In reaching this decision, Judge Sarkisian also referenced a significant list of cases compiled from other jurisdictions throughout the country that have barred Dr. Smith’s testimony on hedonic damages based on similar reasoning.

While not something new, this opinion is nevertheless a good reminder that expert testimony should not be admitted in support of a claim for hedonic damages.  Any defendant who faces such an attempt by plaintiffs would do well to move to exclude such testimony, and this opinion should provide fodder for such a motion.

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