Testimony of Life Care Planning Expert Witness Admitted Despite Claims of Rule 26 Deficiencies

Testimony of Life Care Planning Expert Witness Admitted Despite Claims of Rule 26 Deficiencies

The first-party lawsuit originated from a collision involving multiple vehicles on May 2, 2017. Plaintiffs Steve Watkins (“Mr. Watkins”) and Lisa Watkins (“Ms. Watkins”) were traveling in a vehicle in Harris County, Texas, when they were struck from behind and pushed into the vehicle in front of them. They were in the process of taking Ms. Watkins for a medical procedure. The Watkins asserted that another driver, Lucas Love, was at fault for the accident, and that he was “underinsured.” Mr. Watkins suffered a broken thumb. Mr. Watkins sought underinsured motorist (“UIM”) coverage benefits from Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company (“Hartford”) for his alleged injuries, and Ms. Watkins asserted a bystander claim.

The Watkins had designated Dr. Shelly N. Savant, MD, CLCP, to provide expert testimony and a life care plan for Steve Watkins. Savant also purported to opine regarding Mr. Watkins’s prognosis, diagnostic and therapeutic necessities, and the alleged causal connection between his injuries and the accident. She had provided a life care plan, which included a plan for future medical treatment, an opinion on causation, opinions regarding the diagnosis and treatment history of Steve Watkins, and an estimate of the costs of purported future medical treatment.

Hartford filed a motion to exclude the testimony of Shelly Savant, claiming Savant was not qualified to testify as an expert on causation because her opinions were not based upon a reliable foundation and were nothing more than speculation.

Hartford also contended that Savant’s disclosure failed to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 26 because the Watkins had not provided the facts or data considered by Savant in arriving at her opinions in this case. According to Hartford, without reliable factual data, Savant’s testimony contained analytical gaps and was speculation.

Life Care Planning Expert Witness

Shelly N. Savant is a board-certified neurologist and psychiatrist practicing in the private sector since 2005. As a neurologist and psychiatrist, she has the specialized skills and knowledge to diagnose and provide medical treatment for a diverse range of problems, including neurological and psychiatric emergencies as well as long-term care of chronic illnesses.

She is also a certified life care planner and, as part of her private practice, she performs medical evaluations (interviews and/or examinations) for the purpose of providing additional medical opinions relating to diagnoses, prognosis, diagnostic and therapeutic necessities, and causation in the fields of neurology and psychiatry as well as develop life care plans for evaluees at the request of the referral sources.

Discussion by the Court

Moreover, Hartford argued that Savant’s testimony and purported life care plan were at odds with Mr. Watkins’ advice from medical providers and at odds with his own behavior. For instance, Dr. Varon, Mr. Watkins’s surgeon, did not include any recommendations for long-term medications, nor did he provide a referral for pain management in any of his records. Yet, Savant found a need for Mr. Watkins to undergo physical therapy, occupational therapy, blood tests, MRIs, x-rays, long-term pain medication, orthopedic surgery, primary care, pain psychology evaluations, and steroid injections for the rest of his life despite the fact that Mr. Watkins had not sought any of the treatments that Savant stated would be necessary since the accident on May 2, 2017.

Mr. Watkins noted that Savant’s deposition had not yet taken place at the time of Hartford’s motion to strike, and that any flaws in Savant’s initial disclosure did not prejudice Hartford because Hartford was still able to hire an expert and provide a rebuttal report. Mr. Watkins maintained that Savant was qualified and had reliably applied the life planning principles and methodology to this case. She was both a board-certified neurologist and psychiatrist and a Certified Life Care Planner, had substantial post-graduate medical training in life care planning, and was a member of the International Association of Rehabilitation Professionals.

The Court found that excluding Savant’s testimony was not the proper remedy for the Rule 26 deficiencies alleged by Hartford because it had adequate notice of the facts relied upon by Savant and was able to designate a counter-expert. 

Assuming that Watkins could demonstrate that Savant applied her expertise to case specific-facts, the Court declared it best to resolve Hartford’s objections through cross-examination at trial.


The Court denied Hartford’s motion to exclude testimony of Plaintiff’s expert Shelly Savant.

Key Takeaway:

The Court does not consider a Rule 26 deficiency if the opposing party had adequate notice of the facts the expert in question relied upon, especially to the extent of being able to designate a counter-expert.

Case Details:

Case Caption:Watkins Et Al V. Hartford Accident And Indemnity Company
Court:United States District Court, Texas Southern
Order Date:March 29, 2024


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