Fortin v. Hartford Underwriters Insurance Company
Connecticut case law reflects the principle that an expert opinion is entitled to weight on the issues for which it is admitted only when it is based on the facts at issue in the case. The plaintiffs, including Joseph Fortin and Kofkoff Egg Farm, LLC, filed this action against North River Insurance Company and the Hartford alleging, inter alia, breach of contract arising from a failure to defend the plaintiffs from claims allegedly arising under the policies. The trial court granted the plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment ruling that the Hartford had a duty to defend the plaintiffs in the underlying action and that North River had a duty to defend the plaintiffs during those periods in which Hartford failed to present a defense. The plaintiffs disclosed Attorney Dale Faulkner as an expert witness to testify including about the objective reasonableness of the settlement amount paid by the plaintiffs. The trial court granted North River's motion to preclude Faulkner from testifying and, thereafter, granted summary judgment to North River. The plaintiffs appealed claiming that the court erred in granting these motions and in denying post judgment motions. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The plaintiffs bore the burden of demonstrating that their settlement of the underlying action was objectively reasonable. Faulkner testified in his deposition that, in evaluating the settlement, he reviewed materials related to the underlying claims against the plaintiffs, including the parties' mediation statements, pleadings and court rulings. In forming his opinion, he relied heavily on the mediation statements, which, the Appellate Court noted, did not objectively evaluate the strength of the claims at issue. Faulkner's testimony reflected that he did not base his opinion that the settlement was reasonable, on an adequate investigation of the facts underlying the claims or an independent or expert evaluation of the merits of the claims or potential defenses. The record did not reveal that Faulkner was aware of the ultimate settlement amount. The Appellate Court concluded that Faulkner's opinion concerning the reasonableness of the settlement was without substantial value to a finder of fact and properly was precluded. Absent relevant expert testimony, the plaintiffs were unable to present sufficient evidence that the settlement was reasonable. Accordingly, the trial court properly granted summary judgment for North River.