Massachusetts Court Discusses Admissibility of Expert Testimony in a Slip and Fall Case

Slip and fall accidents are one of the most common causes of personal injuries in Massachusetts. While in many instances, the condition that caused a fall is obvious, in others, it is not clear whether a condition contributed to a fall. Thus, in some cases, a person injured in a fall may need to retain an expert to offer testimony regarding the dangerous nature of a condition on a premises. Expert testimony must meet certain standards to be admissible, however, as demonstrated in a recent Massachusetts slip and fall case. If you sustained injuries in a fall at a business in Massachusetts, it is prudent to meet with a zealous Massachusetts personal injury attorney to discuss what evidence you must produce to recover damages.

Factual History

It is alleged that the plaintiff fell while descending a set of stairs at the defendant grocery store. Prior to the fall, she visited the defendant store regularly and never observed any defects in the stairs. She testified, however, that when she began to walk down the stairs, her heel caught on the tread, which was loose, causing her to fall. The defendant store’s manager inspected the stairs after the fall and did not observe any defects. A few weeks later, though, the plaintiff and a friend visited the store, at which time they observed the loose tread. As such, the plaintiff filed a negligence claim against the defendant in the Massachusetts federal court.

Reportedly, two years after the fall, the plaintiff retained a licensed engineer to inspect the steps. The engineer set forth a report concluding that the deterioration of the concrete at the top of the stairs created a difference in height between the tread and the stairs and that the height differential caused the plaintiff’s fall. The defendant moved to strike the plaintiff’s expert report.

Admissibility of Expert Testimony

A federal judge called upon to determine whether expert testimony is admissible must first determine whether the expert possesses sufficient skills, knowledge, training, experience, or education to offer his or her opinion. If the judge deems the expert qualified, the judge will then assess whether the testimony offered by the expert is both relevant to the issue at hand and whether it rests on a reliable foundation. To evaluate the reliability of the foundation, the judge must evaluate the expert’s methodology and the basis for the expert’s opinion. In turn, the relevancy requirement aims to ensure that there is a sufficient nexus between the expert’s methodology and his or her conclusions by assessing whether the conclusions rationally flow from the methodology.

In the subject case, the court assumed that the expert possessed sufficient training and experience to offer opinions in the engineering field. The court held, however, that regardless of whether the expert had the required credentials, he had not provided a reliable basis for his opinion, in that he did not provide a scientific rationale for his conclusion. As such, the court granted the defendant’s motion to strike.

Speak with a Trusted Personal Injury Attorney

If you suffered harm due to a dangerous condition on someone else’s property, it is in your best interest to speak with a trusted Massachusetts personal injury attorney regarding your potential claims. The seasoned personal injury attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan are proficient at aiding injured parties in the pursuit of damages, and we will diligently seek any compensation you may be owed. You can contact us via the form online or at 508-822-6600 to schedule a free and confidential meeting.