Civil Engineering Expert Opines on Metal Roofing Failure


Civil Engineering Expert WitnessCASE: Buddy’s Plant Plus Corp. v. Centimark Corp., 978 F. Supp. 2d 523 (2013)

BACKGROUND:

This case concerns an allegedly defective roof coating system (specifically an elastomeric acrylic coatings manufactured by Lapolla, Inc.) installed by Defendant, CentiMark Corporation (“CentiMark”) at Plaintiff’s, Buddy’s Plant Plus Corporation (“Buddy’s”) facilities. After a hail storm struck Buddy’s facilities, Buddy’s claimed their roof began to leak. CentiMark was contacted to bid the job. It is disputed as to how CentiMark became involved in the roofing project and whether CentiMark recommended installing the elastomeric coating to fix the leaks in the roof. Buddy’s claimed that it was approached by CentiMark and CentiMark represented that the elastomeric coating would effectively remedy the hail damage. CentiMark countered that Buddy’s was a Lapolla customer before the leaks even occurred and a Lapolla agent had recommended that the elastomeric coating be applied. CentiMark claimed that Buddy’s made the decision to install an elastomeric coating before CentiMark and Buddy’s were even in contact with one another. CentiMark claimed that it was not its responsibility to choose or suggest the roofing system to be installed, but only to bid and install the elastomeric acrylic coating chosen by Buddy’s.

Expert Witness:

CentiMark’s civil engineer expert in the case was Brian Neal Jaks. CentiMark described Jaks as a highly educated, licensed professional engineer in 14 states, who had been involved with designing, testing and inspecting over 220 metal roofs during his 18 years as a civil engineer in the metal roofing industry. He personally visited and inspected Buddy’s roofs in 2009 and 2011. During his visits, he personally observed the evidence of condensation about which he opined. He also studied thermodynamics with mechanical action or relations of heat on materials, such as condensation.

Daubert Challenge:

Buddy’s sought to preclude Jaks from testifying as to condensation on Buddy’s roof. Buddy’s claimed that under Federal Rule of Evidence 702 pertaining to expert testimony that Jaks’ testimony should be excluded because he “is not qualified to testify that condensation caused the water damage to Buddy’s building because he has no experience in dealing with condensation issues, his opinion is not sufficiently reliable, and his opinion has no valid scientific connection to the facts of the case.”

Specifically, Buddy’s claimed that Jaks was not qualified as an expert as “he has no prior knowledge, skill, experience, training or education to testify regarding the existence of condensation in a metal building.”

Additionally, Buddy’s argued that Jaks did not test the humidity or temperature and made no determination of the dew point. Buddy’s argued that his testimony was unreliable because it was based on subjective belief rather than methods and procedures of science.

Conclusion:

The court ruled that Jaks was a sufficiently qualified expert under Federal Rule of Evidence 702. He had been licensed as a professional engineer in fourteen states, and had been “involved with designing, testing and inspecting over 220 metal roofs during his eighteen years as a civil engineer in the metal roofing industry”, and had specifically studied thermodynamics. Moreover, he had visited the site and conducted sufficient tests to support his expert opinion. The court noted that because other courts have taken “liberal approach” in admitting expert testimony, Plaintiff’s argument regarding Jaks’ qualifications “relate more to the weight to be given” to his testimony, rather than to its admissibility. The court stated that, “Witnesses may be competent to testify as experts even though they may not be the ‘best’ qualified. Who is ‘best’ qualified is a matter of weight upon which reasonable jurors may disagree.”

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