Plaintiff’s Damage Expert Barred in Tortious Interference Case Where Only Offering ‘Simple Math’ – IL Case Note

An auto body shop plaintiff sued an insurance company for tortious interference and consumer fraud.

The plaintiff in Knebel Autobody Center, Inc. v. Country Mutual Insurance Co., 2017 IL App (4th) 160379-U, claimed the defendant insurer intentionally prepared low-ball estimates to drive its policy holders and plaintiff’s potential customers to lower cost (“cut-rate”) competing body shops.  As a result, plaintiff claimed it lost a sizeable chunk of business.  The trial court granted the insurer’s motion for summary judgment and motion to bar plaintiff’s damages expert.

Result: Affirmed.

Reasons: The proverbial “put up or shut up” litigation moment,  summary judgment is a drastic means of disposing of a lawsuit.  The party moving for summary judgment has the initial burden of production and ultimate burden of persuasion.  A defendant moving for summary judgment can satisfy its burden of production either by (1) showing that some element of plaintiff’s cause of action must be resolved in defendant’s favor or (2) by demonstrating that plaintiff cannot produce evidence necessary to support plaintiff’s cause of action.  Once the defendant meets its burden of production, the burden shifts to the plaintiff who must then present a factual basis that arguably entitles it to a favorable judgment.

Under Illinois law, a consumer fraud plaintiff must prove damages and a tortious interference plaintiff must show that it lost specific customers as a result of a defendant’s purposeful interference.

Here, since the plaintiff failed to offer any evidence of lost customers stemming from the insurer’s acts, it failed to offer enough damages evidence to survive summary judgment on either its consumer fraud or tortious interference claims.

The court also affirmed the trial court’s barring the plaintiff’s damages expert.

In Illinois, expert testimony is admissible if the offered expert is qualified by knowledge, skill, training, or education and the testimony will assist the judge or jury in understanding the evidence.

Expert testimony is proper only where the subject matter is so arcane that only a person with skill or experience in a given area is able to form an opinion. However, “basic math” is common knowledge and does not require expert testimony. 

Illinois Evidence Rules 702 and 703 codify the expert witness admissibility standards.  Rule 702 provides that if “scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.”

Rule 703 states that an expert’s opinion may be based on data perceived by or made known to the expert at or before the hearing. If the data is of a type reasonably relied upon by experts in a particular field, the underlying data supplied to the expert doesn’t have to be admissible in evidence.

Here, the plaintiff’s expert merely compared plaintiff’s loss of business from year to year and opined that the defendant’s conduct caused the drop in business.  Rejecting this testimony, the court noted that anyone, not just an expert, can calculate a plaintiff’s annual lost revenues.  Moreover, the plaintiff’s expert failed to account for other factors (i.e. demographic shifts, competing shops in the area, etc.) that may have contributed to plaintiff’s business losses.  As a result, the appeals court found the trial court properly barred plaintiff’s damages expert. (¶¶ 32-33)


The case underscores the proposition that a tortious interference plaintiff must demonstrate a specific customer(s) stopped doing business with a plaintiff as a direct result of a defendant’s purposeful conduct.  A consumer fraud plaintiff also must prove actual damages resulting from a defendant’s deceptive act.

Another case lesson is that a trial court has wide discretion to allow or refuse expert testimony.  Expert testimony is not needed or allowed for simple math calculations.  If all a damages expert is going to do is compare a company’s earnings from one year to the next, the court will likely strike the expert’s testimony as unnecessary to assist the judge or jury in deciding a case.


Expert Witness Testimony In Federal Court

Here’s a case that’s a little dated (2012) but still post-worthy for its detailed discussion of punitive damages and the standards for expert testimony admissibility in Federal court.

In Baldonado v. Wyeth, 2012 WL 1520331, the Northern District partially granted a motion to bar plaintiff’s economics expert from testifying on plaintiff’s punitive damages and a defendant pharmaceutical company’s net worth in an injury suit involving one of defendant’s hormone replacement products.

In support of her case, the Plaintiff offered the  expert opinions of an economist who offered opinions on both the defendant’s net worth and the amount of punitive damages due the plaintiff.

In partially granting the defendant’s motion to bar the testimony, the court provides a nice gloss on the required showings for getting expert opinions into evidence in Federal courts.

Punitive Damages and Expert Testimony

– Under Federal Rule of Evidence 702, a witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if: (1) the expert’s knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue; (2) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data; (3) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and (4) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case;

– Federal district courts employ a three-part test before admitting expert testimony: (1) the expert must be qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education; (2) the expert’s reasoning or methodology underlying his testimony must be scientifically reliable; and (3) the expert’s testimony must assist the trier of fact in understanding the evidence or to determine a factual issue;

 – A damages expert should not give an opinion on the amount of punitive damages the jury should award;

 – a punitive damage amount is for the jury to decide based on the facts of this case and the applicable punitive damages law.

See FRE 702.

The court found that the Plaintiff’s economist improperly testified that the jury should assess punitive damages between $6.4 billion and $7.1 billion based on defendant’s daily profit rate for the drug in question and his review of SEC guidelines for punitive damages in antitrust cases.

Since it was improper for the expert to opine on the specific punitive damages to be awarded as well as what damages calculation formula to apply, the court granted the motion to bar the expert from testifying on the proper measure for punitive damages.

Punitive Damages and ‘Net Worth’ Testimony

The court next addressed whether plaintiff’s expert could opine that the defendant pharmaceutical giant was worth about $62 billion.  In the context of punitive damages and in the accounting realm, “net worth” means the excess of a company’s total assets minus total liabilities.

In Illinois, a plaintiff can present evidence of a corporate defendant’s net worth where punitive damages are at issue.  A defendant’s profits or net worth is relevant where a plaintiff alleges a claim that may merit punitive damages.

But because of their penal nature, punitive damages are disfavored and courts cautiously avoid assessing punitives unless clearly they are clearly warranted.  While the amount of punitive damages is a question for the jury, the threshold decision of whether the facts of a particular case justify the imposition of punitive damages is for the judge to decide.

The Court ultimately ruled that a further hearing was necessary to probe the basis for the expert’s net worth finding.  Since the expert appeared to substitute a “market capitalization” (number of outstanding shares times share value) analysis instead of a straight assets-minus-liabilities one to measure the defendant’s net worth, the expert’s underlying methodology wasn’t sound enough to get his report into evidence without an additional hearing.


1/ Where an expert offers damages and net worth testimony, especially for a global corporate defendant, his predicate methodology must be based on sound data for his testimony to be admissible;

2/ While a defendant’s net worth is relevant to the punitive damages question, a court must still make a threshold decision that a given case warrants punitive damages;

3/ The plaintiff who seeks a punitive damages award has the burden of showing how he or she arrived at the ultimate net worth valuation for a defendant.