Court Finds Construction Defect Experts May Not Offer Legal Conclusions


Court: United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Jeanes v. McBride
Citation: 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 105136

Facts

The plaintiff brought a suit against the defendant regarding the defendant’s construction of a building on a plot owned by the plaintiff. It was alleged that the defendant failed to get the necessary building approvals and that there were numerous defects in the building structure.

The Construction Defect Expert

The defendant retained a consulting engineer as an expert witness. The defendant’s expert witness worked at a firm that specializes in consulting and testing services for the construction industry. The expert offered his opinion on the presence of defects in the building, the contractual nature of the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant, and the implications caused by the same. The expert made several references to the construction and design defects of the building, including whether the building was defective because the purlins did not bear on top of the truss, or whether the two buildings were improperly joined, or whether the wind bracing is improper.

The plaintiff moved to exclude the construction defect expert’s testimony on the grounds that he had not opined on whether the building could sustain winds of 120 miles per hour and he had failed to run calculations regarding his opinion about the joining of the two buildings.

Discussion

The court held that the construction expert witness was not allowed to offer legal conclusions. The court noted that the defendant’s expert had opined in detail about the contractual responsibilities of the party. The expert offered legal conclusions regarding the contractual responsibilities of the parties unless interpreting the “technical meaning of terms used in [an] industry,” and the expert also stated that the plaintiff “acted as her own general contractor for the overall project” and that the Defendant was the “metal building and concrete subcontractor.” The court considered these examples of a construction expert offering testimony about legal conclusions. As the expert had no experience in law, he was unqualified to opine on such topics. The court, therefore, excluded this part of the construction expert’s testimony.

Held

The court held noted that the expert’s opinions regarding construction and design defects were in accordance with the standard set by Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence and thus, admissible.

The court dismissed the plaintiff’s motion to exclude the construction defect expert’s testimony, noting that the plaintiff’s objections affected the weight of the expert’s testimony, not its admissibility. However, the court concluded that the part of the expert’s testimony that offered legal conclusions was not admissible.

Post Tags