Courts regularly allow ERISA expert testimony relating to the fiduciary standard of care, especially in complex cases. See, e.g., In re Reliant Energy ERISA Litig., 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 48034, at *3, *7-*8 (S.D. Tex. Aug. 19, 2005); Smith v. Sydnor, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20074, at *57-*58 (E.D. Va. Aug. 25, 2000); Flanigan v. GE, 93 F. Supp. 2d 236, 242-243 (D. Conn. 2000). As explained by one court when rejecting an effort to exclude testimony that an ERISA fiduciary breached its duties, “expert witnesses, in all types of litigation, render an opinion as to what the applicable standard of care is and whether it has been complied with.” Harris v. Koenig, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51860, at *6 (D.D.C. May 16, 2011).
Moreover, the vast majority of ERISA fiduciary breach cases are heard by a judge. And courts in most federal circuits have recognized that there is a relaxed standard for admissibility of expert testimony in bench trials. See, e.g., United States v. Wood, 741 F.3d 417, 425 (4th Cir. 2013); David E. Watson, P.C. v. United States, 668 F.3d 1008, 1015 (8th Cir. 2012); Att’y Gen. of Okla. v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 565 F.3d 769, 779 (10th Cir. 2009); United States v. Brown, 415 F.3d 1257, 1268 (11th Cir. 2005); Deal v. Hamilton Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 392 F.3d 840, 852 (6th Cir. 2004); Serby v. First Alert, Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95612, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. July 22, 2015); Wolkowitz v. Lerner, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34698, at *5 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 21, 2008).
Thus, in addition to the fact that fiduciary breach cases are often complex, there is a significant likelihood that competing expert testimony will be heard by a judge in ERISA cases, including litigation involving 401(k) plans and employee stock ownership plans.