The personal injury case stemmed from a rear-end collision on August 7, 2019. The Plaintiff, Sarah Ann Stratemeyer filed negligence claims against Kyle Thomas Pliler and his employer, Northstar Construction Management Company, Inc., seeking damages for bodily injuries, loss of e arnings, and loss of ability to earn money. At the time of the accident, Sarah was a nursing student at Renaissance Health Institute. In January 2022, she failed her nursing school exit exam, which she attributed to a mild traumatic brain injury allegedly sustained as a result of the accident. The Plaintiff intended to call two expert witnesses: Dr. Craig H. Lichtblau, a physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor, to testify about future medical costs and disabilities, and Dr. Julianne Frain, a vocational rehabilitation expert, to discuss limitations on the Plaintiff’s future ability to work.

Defendants requested that the Court prohibit Lichtblau and Frain from testifying about Plaintiff’s pre-incident intellectual and cognitive functioning and Plaintiff’s inability to pass her nursing school exit examination as a result of the 2019 accident.

Defendants attacked the testimony on three bases: (1) neither expert is qualified to opine on these matters; (2) the experts’ testimony is ipse dixit, unreliable, and unsupported by facts or evidence; and (3) the testimony would confuse the jury. 

Vocational Rehabilitation Expert Witness

Dr. Julianne Frain is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor, Certified Life Care Planner, and Diplomate with the American Board of Vocational Experts. She is typically hired in the areas of vocational rehabilitation, life care planning, or both concentrations combined. Dr. Frain has 15 years of experience handling claims within various forms of injury and family law matters. She renders opinions on vocational assessment, disability, pre-and-post incident earning capacity, re-employment, rehabilitation, and life care planning. Additionally, she provides insights on the usual and customary costs of medical care.

Get the full story on challenges to Julianne Frain’s expert opinions and testimony with an in-depth Challenge Study. 

Physical Medicine Expert Witness

Dr. Craig H. Lichtblau specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation, focusing on medical functional capacity and impairment levels. His areas of expertise include disability evaluations, chronic pain management and defining impairment, disability and cost for future medical care.

Fortify your strategy by reviewing a Challenge Study detailing grounds for excluding Craig Lichtblau’s expert testimony.

Discussion by the Court

Julianne Frain

Frain, a vocational rehabilitation expert, provided testimony based on her evaluation of the Plaintiff and review of medical records. She focused on assessing the Plaintiff’s future earning capacity and loss of earning potential following the 2019 accident.

In her analysis, Frain assumed the Plaintiff would have likely completed her nursing program if the accident had not occurred. She presented this as an assumption rather than a causation opinion. She explicitly stated that she did not have independent medical causation opinions. Instead, she relied on medical records and diagnoses from treating doctors and other medical experts involved in the case.

During her deposition, Frain initially expressed uncertainty about whether the Plaintiff would have passed the exit exam without the accident. However, she later opined that the 2019 accident was a “contributing factor” and “likely” caused the Plaintiff to fail the examination. Frain declined to offer opinions on the Plaintiff’s pre-accident intellectual or cognitive functioning. She deferred to neuropsychological evaluations for such assessments.

While not explicitly mentioned in the Court’s analysis, she likely included an assessment of the Plaintiff’s work capacity and potential job options in her report, as is typical for vocational rehabilitation experts.

Craig Lichtblau

Lichtblau, an expert in physical medicine and rehabilitation, provided testimony focused on the Plaintiff’s medical functional capacity and level of impairment following the 2019 accident. In his report, he opined that the Plaintiff had the functional capacity to work 8 hours per day on an uninterrupted basis. He recommended “sedentary light” positions and noted that the Plaintiff’s disability would increase as she aged. He also stated that she would suffer from acute, intermittent exacerbations of chronic pain and discomfort. Lichtblau attributed many of the Plaintiff’s current medical conditions to the 2019 incident. He repeatedly stated that her medical issues were “secondary” to the injuries sustained in the accident.

During his deposition, he described the Plaintiff’s injuries and how they affected her post-accident levels of cognitive functioning. However, he did not directly address her pre-accident intellectual functioning in his report or deposition. Regarding the Plaintiff’s exit examination failure, Lichtblau declined to comment on the likelihood of her passing the exam in the future but stated that it would be “a very difficult road for her” due to her injuries. He did not provide a specific opinion on whether the 2019 accident caused the Plaintiff to fail her exit examination.

Findings of the Court

The Court found that both experts failed to properly disclose opinions on the Plaintiff’s pre-accident intellectual functioning and causation for failing the exit exam. This was required under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2)(B)(i). The Court emphasized that expert reports must include “a complete statement of all opinions the witness will express and the basis and reasons for them.”

For Frain, the Court noted that her report did not offer opinions on pre-accident intellectual functioning. She explicitly stated in her deposition that she would not opine on this topic. Regarding the Plaintiff’s failure to pass the exit examination, Frain’s report mentioned the accident as a contributing factor. However, she presented it as an assumption rather than a causation opinion.

The Court also determined that the Plaintiff failed to adequately refute the Defendants’ arguments in her response. The Plaintiff’s brief focused on general qualifications and methodology rather than addressing the specific topics the Defendant sought to exclude.

For Lichtblau, in addition to the disclosure issues, the Court conducted a Daubert analysis. It found that his testimony on these topics did not meet the reliability standard. The Court noted a lack of methodology for assessing pre-accident intellectual functioning. It also found a failure to consider alternative causes for the exam failure, such as the low overall passage rate.


The Court barred Julianne Frain and Craig Lichtblau from offering opinions on the Plaintiff’s pre-accident intellectual functioning and the causal link between the 2019 accident and her exit exam failure.

Key Takeaways

1. Experts must properly disclose all opinions they intend to offer at trial in their reports, as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2)(B)(i).

2. Parties must adequately respond to and refute opposing arguments in motions, addressing specific points raised rather than making general arguments.

3. Expert testimony must meet the Daubert standard for reliability, which includes having a sound methodology, considering alternative explanations, and avoiding impermissible analytical leaps.

4. Courts may exclude expert testimony on specific topics even if the expert is generally qualified in their field, particularly when the expert lacks the necessary basis or methodology for those specific opinions.

5. Assumptions used in an expert’s analysis should be clearly distinguished from causation opinions.

6. Failure to consider obvious alternative explanations (such as the low overall passage rate for an exam) can render an expert’s opinion on causation unreliable.

7. The Court’s gatekeeping role under Daubert is crucial in ensuring that only reliable and relevant expert testimony reaches the jury.  

Case Details:

Case Caption:Stratemeyer v. Northstar Constr. Mgmt. Co.
Docket Number:9:23cv80147
Court:United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida
Order Date:April 16, 2024


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