Hiring the Right Expert Requires the Right Attorney

Submitted by New Jersey Civil Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

In spring of 2010 a vehicle next to an apartment building caught fire. Nobody knows the cause but there are suspicions an unattended grill may have been the cause. The fire spread to the building owned by defendant Emma Gavidia and then onto a neighboring building owned by plaintiffs Narendra Papaiya and Kailas Papaiya. The fire became so unmanageable that fire departments from multiple cities had to be called in order to eventually put it out. The plaintiffs sued Ms. Gavidia, North Hudson Regional Fire Rescue, Union City, and United Water Company under theory that liability existed because not enough water was available in the nearest fire hydrant in order to put the fire out in time and that multiple building/parking codes were violated on Gavidia’s behalf.

Today this blog discusses an appeal of that case in which the plaintiffs appealed the striking of an expert report as a net opinion and the granting of summary judgment to the defendants. The plaintiffs used Daniel Rodriguez, a New Jersey licensed fire official as their expert witness. His report concluded:

  1. cars were parked illegally
  2. building codes were violated
  3. United Water did not provide sufficient water volume or pressure (but failed to provide what the correct volume or pressure was)
  4. fire station closures prolonged the fire

The report did not cite industry standards or regulations nor did it establish why Mr. Rodriguez was an expert in water utility operations. He attempted to justify his expertise and personal knowledge of the facts in a supplemental report. However, much of the supplemental report was found to be based on hearsay and it was filed late without exceptional circumstances.

In denying the appeal the Appellate Division reiterated the importance of providing a basis for an expert opinion and did find that the facts of this case required an expert. The real lesson here is to hire an attorney who knows what is required from an expert and an expert who possesses the credentials and experience to file a persuasive report and withstand cross-examination.

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