Testimony From Insurance Company’s Structural Engineering Expert Fails “General Acceptance” Test

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Court: United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: CXA Corp. v. Am. Family Ins. Co.
Citation: 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 192773

Facts

After the plaintiff’s roof collapsed, they submitted an insurance claim which was denied by the defendant insurer. The plaintiff then sued the defendant insurance company for breach of contract. The defendant retained a structural engineering expert to offer testimony on whether the roof decay in the plaintiff’s building was “known to an insured” or “hidden from view,” and on whether the collapse of the roof took place in an abrupt manner. The plaintiff filed this motion to exclude the structural engineer expert’s testimony on the grounds that it was not based on generally accepted and tested methodology in the expert’s field.

Structural Engineer Expert

The structural engineering expert witness had 30+ years of experience in the design, construction, emergency stabilization, repair, and performance testing of residential, commercial, and industrial buildings, as well as public roads and bridges. He also had expertise in construction engineering and management. He was a licensed structural engineer, a licensed professional engineer, and held a Ph.D.

The structural engineering expert was a principal at an engineering and scientific investigation and analysis firm. He worked as a civil engineer in the Department of Public Works for the City of Chicago. He also served as a senior structural engineer for a cement association. The structural engineering expert witness also served as an adjunct professor at several universities.

The expert had experience training response teams all over the country, helping them evaluate structures hit by natural and artificial disasters. The expert published numerous articles and research papers in multiple peer-reviewed reputed engineering journals.

Discussion

The plaintiff sought to prevent the defendant’s structural engineer expert from testifying on the nature of the roof decay, whether it was clearly visible or even on whether it’s collapse was abrupt. The court noted that the structural engineer expert’s testimony was not enough to qualify as sufficiently reliable, as his opinion on the cause of the roof’s collapse was not based on reliable methodology. Furthermore, the structural engineering expert witness failed to explain how his hypothesis had been tested and whether it was accepted generally in the field. The court further noted that his conclusion was “connected to existing data only by the ipse dixit of the expert,” citing  Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, paragraph 3.

Held

The plaintiff’s motion to exclude the testimony of the defendant’s structural expert witness was granted.