Wrongful Termination Plaintiffs Permitted to Testify as Their Own Experts

How would you like to be the employer in this case?

Two police officers at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) refused to arrest a patient, saying there was no probable cause and the arrest would therefore be illegal.  They were shown the door, and now are suing for wrongful termination.

Firing an employee for refusing to break the law is a violation of public policy, and therefore is a wrongful termination.  Thus, this entire case will come down to whether it would have been unlawful for the officers to make the arrest, an issue that might be open to the testimony of an expert witness who can explain the law of probable cause.

So, the time came in the case to designate the expert witnesses, and the plaintiffs designated themselves!  Counsel for UTMB screamed, claiming that the judge was the best person to decide the issue of probable cause.  Besides, counsel argued, the officers had not provided resumes or articles published in legal journals to show their expertise.

Silly counsel, resumes are for . . . well that doesn't really work.  But the standard for an expert is not nearly as high as what you argued.  There is no requirement that a person be published or have a curriculum vitae in order to be an expert.  He need only show that the has sufficient knowledge of a subject to be able to offer an opinion that would be helpful to the jurors.  Seems to me that police officers with training and years of experience would be able to provide meaningful testimony as to what constitutes probable cause.

The judge denied the request to exclude the expert testimony of the officers. A more detailed article about the case can be found here.

This is the flip side of the coin I wrote about in Don't Bet Your Job on Whether You're Right. In that case, a City employee decided that depositing a certain check would be illegal, and refused to do so on that basis. She lost her wrongful termination case, because the judge decided it would not have been illegal to deposit the check.

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