La Code Evid. Art. 704 addresses the use of expert testimony in Louisiana Courts and provides, “Testimony in the form of an opinion or inference otherwise admissible is not to be excluded solely because it embraces an ultimate issue to be decided by the trier of fact.” Though the text of this article is simple, Louisiana trial courts often face questions about when an expert’s opinion crosses a line and invades the jury’s fact-finding function. These questions often arise in the context of Daubert hearings under La. Code Civ. P. art. 1425.
The Louisiana Supreme Court recently addressed this issue in Hulin v. Snow, where the Court was asked to review the extent to which an expert in a civil case could offer testimony that addressed the ultimate issues of law and fact in the case. The ultimate issue in the Hulin case, which involved parental care, was the alleged negligence of the defendants. The Court examined multiple tendered opinions of the plaintiffs’ expert, including expert testimony about the defendants’ negligence and credibility.
In a Per Curiam opinion, the Court ruled that it was improper for the expert to testify on the ultimate issues of whether the defendants were negligent or credible. It held that “(a)lthough experts may aid the trial court in the determinations of ultimate facts, the final conclusions drawn from those facts belong exclusively to the trier of fact.” The testimony of plaintiffs’ expert stated conclusions about these ultimate issues. Therefore, it was inadmissible.
However, the Court did allow the expert, a board-certified pediatrician, to opine on the parental care of the defendants. “Even though this testimony may embrace some of the ultimate issues to be decided by the trier of fact, it is permissible.” It appears the Court found that this testimony did not state conclusions about ultimate issues, as the Court held that the trier of fact could accept or reject the expert’s opinions on parental care as they relate to ultimate facts.
Hulin v. Snow, 2023-00530 (La. 6/26/23), — So.3d —, 2023 WL 4199310.