Supervising HVAC Workers Does Not Constitute Sufficient Expert Experience Under Daubert

Zach Barreto

Written by
— Updated on February 5, 2020

Supervising HVAC Workers Does Not Constitute Sufficient Expert Experience Under Daubert

Court: Court of Appeals of Michigan
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Brooklyn Plumbing Heating & Air Conditioning v. Aiello
Citation: 2010 Mich. App. LEXIS 582

Facts

The plaintiffs bought a cottage which had heating, ventilation, plumbing, and air conditioning (HVAC) system provided by the defendants. After moving in, the plaintiffs discovered that their HVAC system had insufficient airflow. The plaintiffs complained to the defendants about this issue on multiple occasions. In spite of several repair jobs completed by the defendants, the issue was not resolved.

The plaintiffs refused to pay the defendants for the work that had already been done and filed a suit alleging negligence, misrepresentation, fraud, violation of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act, and breach of contract. The defendants filed a counterclaim.

The trial court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded them damages, including attorney fees. After the defendant’s plea for a retrial was turned down, they filed the present appeal including (1) a motion claiming unfair summary judgment by the trial court, (2) a motion claiming the trial court had erred in dismissing the report submitted by a consultation company, (3) a motion claiming the trial court’s decision was against the great weight of evidence, (4) a motion asking for a new trial, and (5) a motion claiming the trial court had erred in excluding the testimony of their HVAC expert witness.

The HVAC Expert

The defendant’s HVAC expert witness was a general contractor who held a builder individual license granted by the Michigan license board. He was retained by the defendants to testify as their HVAC expert and support their case. His testimony was excluded by the trial court, as the court felt the expert’s testimony did not measure up to the standards laid out by Daubert. The defendants appealed against that decision in the current motion.

Discussion

The court noted that the Michigan Rules of Evidence required an expert witness who could examine and analyze the facts in evidence to provide testimony “in a particular area that belongs more to an expert than to the common man,” citing Surman v Surman. The court further discussed the expert witness’s response to the trial court’s question as to whether he had experience working with ducts. The defendant’s expert testified that he was not directly involved with work related to HVAC systems.

The court reiterated the trial court’s observation that the HVAC expert did not have experience handling HVAC issues on his own, but depended on subcontractors for these tasks. The court further noted that though possession of a license is not the criterion to determine one as an expert, spending time as a general contractor, and working alongside or supervising HVAC experts, would not give one the knowledge and expertise necessary to instruct the trial court. The court thus agreed with the trial court’s decision:  the defendant’s proffered expert was not qualified enough to provide relevant testimony as an HVAC expert witness that would help the trier of facts.

Held

The defendant’s motion claiming the trial court had abused its discretion in excluding the testimony of their HVAC expert witness was denied.

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