Federal court weighs in on Safeco's attempt to assign zero value to RV seized by FBI for prior owner's criminal acts

By Marian Johns | May 15, 2019

MIAMI — A federal court has intervened in a dispute over the testimonies of expert witnesses used in a case involving a Florida man who is suing his insurance carrier over the value of a stolen RV that he purchased and which was then confiscated by the FBI. 

According to the May 9 U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida filing,  plaintiff Eladio Ruiz petitioned the court to strike the testimony of the defendant's Safeco Insurance Company expert witness Thomas Bailey. Safeco also petitioned the court to strike the testimony of Ruiz's expert witness Roy Bent Jr. 

The case involves a lawsuit filed by Ruiz against Safeco over the coverage of an RV he purchased that was seized by the FBI in August 2017 due to the previous owner's alleged criminal acts. The case now includes a dispute over the value of the RV, with Ruiz and Safeco both arguing to strike each other's expert witnesses' testimonies, according to the court filing. 

Bent valued the RV at $519,702, while Safeco's Bailey stated the RV had no value at the time it was seized by the FBI. 

Safeco argues that the "methodology" used by Bent did not use “scientific, technical, or otherwise specialized knowledge” in making his valuation of the RV, which was based on his experience. Ruiz argued Bailey's testimony "alleged impermissible legal conclusions" and that Bailey asserting Ruiz should have seen the "red flags" before purchasing the RV, cannot be allowed. 

U.S. Magistrate Judge Edwin Torres concluded that the testimony of Ruiz's witness, Bent, can be used and that Safeco's argument over his methodology "rings hollow." Torres stated "we are satisfied that Bent’s experience allows him to reach the ultimate determination as to the value of the RV, based on the methodology he normally employs in conducting appraisals on similar vehicles."

Torres also concluded Safeco's witness' report "contains legal conclusions about what the jury should decide as to Ruiz’s conduct" is impermissible. 

The court allowed Bailey's testimony with certain conditions. Those conditions include not using testimony "that Ruiz was, in fact, unreasonable in making the purchase giving rise to the complaint" and that Bailey cannot testify that Ruiz "had knowledge that the vehicle had been stolen or that this had been a known fact at the time of the FBI’s confiscation."

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