×

🔎⚡Access cutting-edge due diligence on any expert with Expert Radar

Court Excludes Construction Expert Witness’s Legal Conclusion Opinions

The plaintiff, a mechanic, was working on moving damaged semi-trailers from the holding area to the mechanic's workshop. A trailer's door was left open and a stack of cardboard boxes fell on the plaintiff, causing him injuries.

Zach Barreto

Written by
— Updated on August 10, 2022

Court Excludes Construction Expert Witness’s Legal Conclusion Opinions

Court: United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, Urbana Division
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Recker v. Greif Packaging L.L.C. 
Citation: 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 225884

The plaintiff claimed that the defendant, a third-party employer, was negligent. The defendant retained a construction expert witness to opine on the accident. However, the plaintiff challenged the expert’s report.

Facts

The plaintiff husband was in the employment of a third-party defendant as a mechanic. His work involved moving damaged semi-trailers to the mechanic’s shop from a holding area, where he would repair them. The left door of the defendant’s trailer was opened for maintenance. During this time, a stack of cardboard boxes came off the truck and landed on the plaintiff, causing him injury. The plaintiff and his wife then lodged a complaint against the defendant, claiming negligence and loss of consortium. The defendant hired a construction expert witness to support its case, which the plaintiffs challenged.

The Defendant’s Construction Expert Witness

The construction expert witness was a senior construction safety & health consultant. The expert held a bachelor’s degree in occupational safety and health as well as a bachelor’s degree in occupational technology. He investigates and manages projects involving safety issues in industrial/commercial and home construction environments. The expert also evaluates incident-related projects and factors related to causing the incident. He had considerable experience in all major facets of construction. This included fall protection, rigging, scaffolding, crane operations, lock-out/tag-out, excavations, and electrical. Furthermore, he is a construction health and safety technician. Additionally, he is a certified safety professional and an authorized OSHA Outreach Instructor for construction courses.

The construction expert witness’s report contained a number of opinions. Firstly, he concluded that the plaintiff could have avoided the accident if the plaintiff had complied with the common-sense safety rules for protecting himself while opening the trailer. The expert also noted that the accident wouldn’t have happened if the plaintiff had complied with the shipping industry’s standard for checking the stability/location of the cargo prior to opening the ramp. Second, the expert found that the plaintiff’s employer had neglected to provide him with the training and oversight necessary to ensure he was not harmed, as required by Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act. Third, he stated that the defendant was not responsible for the load actually shifting while in transit. According to the expert, it was the responsibility of the third-party defendant’s driver to get the load reconfigured or request load straps.

The plaintiffs challenged his expert report. They alleged that he hadn’t acquired the education, training, experience, skill, or knowledge to qualify as an expert to offer the opinions.

Discussion

The court noted that in compliance with the Federal Rules of Evidence’s Rule 702, the expert’s decision must be based on reliable principles and methodology. The court found no indication that his opinions on safe trucking practices complied with this standard. The expert’s expertise was primarily in construction safety, and he had no proven experience in trucking and load safety practices. The court observed that the expert had seen load locks. However, he had never kept one or even seen one of them added to a truck. The court thus prohibited him from testifying on safe trailer loading standards based on the trucking industry guidelines and applicable legislation, and on the defendant’s freight safety policies.

The court found the expert qualified enough to offer his opinion on OSHA standards and whether there was any breach of the same. However, the court prohibited him from testifying about legal obligations and compliance related to OSHA. The court also barred him from deriving conclusions from contested facts. Additionally, the court prohibited the expert from testifying about who was ultimately responsible for the accident. According to the court, it was an opinion suggesting a conclusion that the jury should reach.

Ruling

The court granted and denied in part the plaintiffs’ motion to exclude the testimony of the construction expert witness.

Key Takeaways for Experts

This case illustrates the importance of avoiding stating legal conclusions. An expert’s testimony helps the judge or jury understand the facts of the case by providing clarity on specialized issues. As such, it’s critical that experts remain focused on the facts. In this case, the court denied parts of the expert’s opinion on legal obligations. The court also prohibited the expert from opining on who was responsible for the accident. In the end, the expert can’t tell the jury what result to reach. However, experts can discuss the evidence that can help the jury reach a conclusion.

Find a Construction Expert Witness Near You

What State is your case in?

AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE DC FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I am an