Messina v. Midway Chevrolet (CA1 12/18/08)

Messina is an insurance coverage case. The issue was whether a guy who bought a car but whose financing then fell through was a “customer” of the dealership — and therefore not covered by the dealership’s auto policy — when he ran into the plaintiff’s car. The Court of Appeals, affirming the trial’s court summary judgment, concluded that he was.

The interesting part is that the plaintiff attempted to ward off summary judgment by having somebody with experience at a car dealership sign an affidavit as an “expert” that the buyer was not a “customer” because he couldn’t pay for the car. The trial judge decided that he didn’t need an “expert” to tell him what “customer” meant. This gave the appellate court a chance to point out what often needs pointing out: you can’t always control a case just by pulling an “expert” out of your hat. It is always for the trial court to decide whether Rule 702 is satisfied (specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact) and that decision will not be overturned, even on summary judgment, absent a clear abuse of discretion.

You have to give the plaintiff’s attorneys some credit, though; they went through four complaints (the original and three amendments) and “extensive” discovery even to get as far as losing a Rule 56 motion.