(Please note: the names and locations of all parties have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the participants in this sexual harassment/personal injury case and its proceedings.)
With respect to subject matter: The jury need not be wholly ignorant of the subject matter of the opinion . . . if that were the test, little expert opinion testimony would ever be heard, particularly in a sexual harassment matter like this. Instead, the statute declares that even if the jury has some knowledge of the matter, expert opinion may be admitted whenever it would assist the jury. People v. McDonald (1984) 37 Cal.3d 351, 367 (overruled on other grounds in People v. Mendoza (2000) 23 Cal.4th 896, 914). Expert opinion testimony is excluded only when it would add nothing at all to the jury’s common fund of information. Id.
Otherwise admissible opinion testimony is not objectionable (simply) because it embraces the ultimate issue to be decided by the trier of fact (e.g., fault, causation, breach of contract, etc.). Evid. Code § 805 [parentheses added]. Thus, expert opinion about an ultimate issue (or any conclusion for that matter) is admissible if it assists the jury. Summers v. A.L. Gilbert Co. (1999) 69 Cal.App.4th 1155, 1182-1183.
With respect to expert qualification in this type of personal injury case, there are no hard and fast rules. The determinative issue is whether the witness has sufficient knowledge, skill or experience in the field so that his or her testimony would be likely to assist the jury in its search for the truth. Mann v. Cracchiolo (1985) 38 Cal.3d 18, 37-38. Whether a particular person has sufficient expertise to testify as an expert witness depends upon the facts of the particular case, the questions propounded to the witness, and the witness’ specific qualifications. People v. Davis (1965) 62 Cal.2d 791, 80.
With respect to reliable matter, an expert’s opinion may be based on evidence whether or not admissible . . . if it is the kind of information experts reasonably rely upon in forming an opinion on the subject matter involved. Evid. Code § 801(b); People v. Hallquist (2005) 133 Cal.App.4th 291, 295-296. Therefore, expert witnesses are specifically permitted to state that they have reviewed, considered and relied upon inadmissible hearsay evidence as the basis for their opinion. The expert may not, however, testify as to the details of those matters if they are otherwise inadmissible. People v. Coleman (1985) 38 Cal.3d 69, 92 [He may not under the guise of reasons bring before the jury incompetent hearsay evidence.]
The admissibility of expert opinions, of course, rests within the court’s sound discretion. Schauf v. Southern Calif. Edison Co. (1966) 243 Cal.App.2d 450, 456. After admission, the weight given expert opinion testimony is determined by the trier of fact. A jury is generally not bound by an expert’s opinion and can reject even an uncontradicted opinion, if the reasons given are unsound. Kastner v. Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Auth. (1965) 63 Cal.2d 52, 58; see also CACI 219 [ You do not have to accept an expert’s opinion. As with any other witness, it is up to you to decide whether you believe the expert’s testimony and choose to use it as a basis for your decision. You may believe all, part, or none of an expert’s testimony.” (See Part 3 of 7.)
For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.