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Secure Your Standard of Care Experts!

March 3, 2015

Last month in Wayne v. Brickman Landscaping, Ltd., a wrongful death case arising out of a fire at a hotel, the Supreme Court of New Jersey granted summary judgment in favor of certain defendants because plaintiffs were unable to establish the required elements of their negligence claim.  Specifically, plaintiffs failed to provide support in favor of their asserted standard of care applicable to private fire sprinkler inspection companies.   First, the Court considered whether expert testimony must be offered to establish the standard of care applicable to a fire sprinkler inspector’s inspection of a sprinkler system. Holding such expert testimony is necessary, the Court then considered whether the plaintiffs’ expert adequately supported his asserted standard of care and breach thereof.  The Supreme Court of New Jersey held that plaintiffs are required to establish the applicable standard of care through objective expert testimony; an expert’s mere personal opinion, which lacks objective support, is inadmissible.

This decision should dictate the approach taken by carriers and defense counsel early on in cases involving a standard of care which is likely to be beyond the understanding of a lay person.  While in a common fall down action expert testimony is not likely needed for a jury to understand whether a defendant breached a duty of care, in a more complex case “involving an assessment of a myriad of factors” the defense would be wise to secure its liability expert early.  An early decision to secure an expert will ensure that someone else does not retain your expert of choice before you retain him, and will also enable counsel to use the expert as a consultant throughout the discovery process.  The Wayne case turned on their being insufficient expert testimony as to whether the hotel’s fire sprinkler system was properly designed and the court could have easily ruled against the defendants if the plaintiffs had offered different expert testimony.  

*This case was not handled by Zarwin Baum attorneys. 

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