Defense Challenges Restaurant Management Expert’s Testimony on Training

A young restaurant worker suffered from a broken back and severed spine after an older worker challenged him to a fight. The manager did not attempt to control the off-duty employees.

Zach Barreto

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— Updated on January 19, 2022

Defense Challenges Restaurant Management Expert’s Testimony on Training

Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Court
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Foradori v. Harris
Citation: 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 6937

The plaintiff retained a restaurant management expert. The expert opined on the measures the restaurant manager should have taken. However, the expert testified that he was not an expert in training on how to diffuse workplace violence. As such, the restaurant argued that the court should exclude the expert’s testimony.

Facts

An older teen restaurant worker confronted the 15-year-old plaintiff who weighs 150 pounds. The older restaurant worker was off duty but dressed in his restaurant uniform. There was a dispute in testimony whether the defendant, another off-duty restaurant employee, also taunted the plaintiff. The restaurant manager admitted the commotion was noisy and disturbing, but she thought it was just juvenile horseplay. The manager did not investigate, interfere, or exert any authority to control off-duty employees. Additionally, the manager did not do anything to shield the plaintiff from the risk of harm. Alternatively, she called on the disruptive teens to move the noise outside.

The worker then challenged the plaintiff to show off his power. The worker asked the plaintiff to meet him for a fight in the parking space of the enterprise next door. At this point, the defendant sprinted at the plaintiff from behind. The defendant hit the plaintiff with his fist in the back of his neck. The defendant was a football player more than six feet tall and weighed about 250 pounds. The plaintiff suffered a broken back and a severed spine. He was diagnosed with pure C5 sensory loss, which meant that he had no feeling below the shoulders. He ended up with permanent quadriplegia. According to the American Spinal Association, the plaintiff suffered from the most severe form of this disability.

The Plaintiff’s Restaurant Management Expert Witness

Once the plaintiff introduced an expert in the field of restaurant management, the defendant restaurant did not oppose. On a direct examination, the expert claimed that the restaurant had negligently educated and monitored its staff. The restaurant also gave no resistance to this.

During cross-examination, the expert addressed the defense counsel’s concerns as to how restaurants can avoid conflict at the workplace. Specifically, the expert opined on steps and measures the restaurant manager should have taken as a result of the incident. The expert witness acknowledged, however, that he wasn’t an expert on specific training on how to diffuse workplace violence. Even so, according to his common sense, he answered the questions of the defendant’s lawyer. During the redirect examination, the district court had consistently sustained the restaurant’s lawyer’s objections to ill-founded questions from opposite lawyers. Following the conclusion of the trial, the district court directed the jury to determine whether the expert testimony was based on adequate education and experience.

Discussion

The court noted that, despite offering no appropriate, timely challenge to the expert’s credentials and expertise during the trial, the restaurant now argued that the expert was wrongly allowed to give testimony in contravention of the expertise required by Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. The restaurant did not object to the expert’s acceptance as an expert in restaurant management. However, the restaurant argued the court should exclude his testimony on the inadequacy of the restaurant’s training and supervision of its managers, especially the manager on duty at the time of the incident, as the expert later admitted that he had no experience in the specific training of workers to defuse aggression at the workplace.

The court noted that the restaurant had not shown that any supposed error had impaired its considerable rights. The restaurant claimed that it was prejudiced by the expert’s testimony. According to the restaurant, it was the only evidence to support the jury’s conclusion that the inadequate monitoring and instruction of the defendant’s workers was a likely source of the plaintiff’s accident. Nevertheless, the court noted that other facts generally sustained the jury’s decision. The other facts included were the restaurant’s managers’ and employees’ statements, as well as the plaintiff’s statement. The court also concluded that the decision of the jury was sufficiently supported even without the expert witness’s testimony.

Ruling

The court denied the defendant’s motion to exclude the testimony of the restaurant management expert witness.

Key Takeaways for Experts

It’s important that your expertise supports your testimony. In this case, the restaurant argued the expert lacked training on how to diffuse workplace violence. However, the court held that the restaurant’s managers and employees and the plaintiff’s statements supported the jury’s decision. If your credentials align with the case at hand and what you’re opining on, it’ll be harder for the defense to poke holes in your credibility.

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