The Katharine Hepburn’s Home at the Heart of Expert Testimony in Insurance DisputeAppellate Court of Connecticut recently heard the appeal of a title insurance company against insured developers.  The case involves over the insurance company’s obligations under the policy to compensate the developers for the borough’s claimed ownership of 30-foot wide discontinued road.

Defendants purchased the subject property for $6 million, which had been the beachfront summer home of actress Katharine Hepburn. When Defendants purchased the property, they also purchased a title insurance policy from Plaintiff. Shortly after Defendants began renovating the property, a borough official told them that the borough claimed ownership of a 30-foot wide discontinued road. Defendants submitted a claim to the plaintiff title insurance company. The value of that loss is at dispute.

Plaintiff claimed that the trial court erred in admitting into evidence opinion testimony of an real estate broker expert witness for Defendants on his theory of “celebrity enhancement.” Plaintiff argued that the court should have conducted a Porter (the state version of Daubert) hearing and should have excluded the expert testimony because it was based on “junk science.” Plaintiff argued that the witness should have been precluded from testifying as to his celebrity enhancement theory because it was not the type of expert analysis that has been recognized to be proper under Porter. It further argued that the licensed real estate broker was not qualified to testify as an expert in celebrity enhancement.

However, the real estate expert was found to be qualified as an expert witness on the subject of real estate values, and he testified that celebrity status of a property “can greatly affect its value.” He further testified that the celebrity status of the Hepburn home enhanced the property’s value, so that its market value was greater than its value as determined by standard methods of appraisal.

In Porter, the Connecticut Supreme Court explicitly adopted the Daubert test to determine the admissibility of scientific evidence, but it didn’t explicitly overrule state precedent as to the evidence to which such a test should apply. The judge wrote that courts apply the Daubert standard only when such expert testimony involves innovative scientific techniques.

Plaintiff argued that a Porter hearing was necessary because the disputed expert testimony was based on an innovative scientific technique. Plaintiff further contended that because the expert testimony on celebrity enhancement theory constituted “junk science,” it should have been excluded.

Judge Robert E. Beach wrote in his appellate opinion that the witness’s proposed expert testimony concerned a real estate appraisal, and, as such, wasn’t scientific evidence. His testimony was premised on a human factor that was readily observable and understandable—it wasn’t the type of potentially misleading evidence contemplated in Porter to be subject to the Daubert test. The trial court didn’t improperly refuse to exclude the evidence on the ground that a Porter hearing should have been held.

The judge went on to say that a real estate appraisal based in part on a celebrity enhancement theory concerned only the value of the property, which, of course, was at issue in the case.

Further, Plaintiff was able to cross-examine the expert on his method and conclusions, and the trial court sustained Plaintiff’s objection to the expert giving his opinion as to the amount by which the value of the property was enhanced because of Kate formerly owning the home. Accordingly, the court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the testimony.

The court did not abuse its discretion in denying the plaintiff’s motion to set aside or to reduce the verdict. The judgment was affirmed.