Georgia Court Excludes Structural Engineering Expert in Insurance Dispute

Plaintiff filed suit against defendant related to an insurance policy after plaintiff suffered water damage.  Plaintiff hired a Structural Engineering Expert Witness to provide testimony.  Defendant filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.  The court granted the motion to exclude.

Facts: This case (Greater Hall Temple Church of God v. Southern Mutual Church Insurance Company – United States District Court – Southern District of Georgia – August 30th, 2019) involves an insurance dispute.  The plaintiff owns a church insured by the defendant.  The church suffered water damage.  The parties dispute the cause of the water damage and whether the damage is covered by the insurance policy.  The plaintiff alleges that a hurricane damaged the roof, which caused it to leak.  The defendant claims that the damage was was caused by improper flashing and insufficient downspouts and, thus, not related to a hurricane.  The plaintiff has hired John Kern (Structural Engineering Expert Witness) to provide testimony.  The defendant has filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.

Discussion:  Kern inspected the exterior and interior of the church six and a half months after the hurricane passed through the area.

The court notes that Kern works as a structural civil engineer.  He obtained a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1972, has some coursework toward a master’s degree and has had roughly 20-25 hours of continuing education a year to maintain his license.  In addition, the court notes that Kern has designed over 100 buildings per year and designs roofs to withstand wind pressures when constructing the roofing on those structures.

The defendant maintains that Kern is not qualified to offer expert testimony because he doesn’t have much experience with R-Panel roofs.  Kern admitted that he does not use R-Panel roofs and has also expressed his displeasure of these types of roofs.  Kern stated that he likes to use standing seam roofs, which do not use screws.  Kern testified that the flaws he identified in the R-Panel roof in this case is the reason why he doesn’t use these types of roofs in his own design.

The court notes that the Kern’s experience is not clear because his curriculum vitae is not in the record and that the only information that the court has about Kern’s qualifications are statements made during his deposition.  The court opines that record is not clear on whether Kern’s inspections of other roofs entail determining the cause of damage to the roof or determining the extent of damage and what work will rectify that damage.

Thus, at the juncture, the court can only opine that Kern has professional training as an engineer and general experience designing and inspecting roofs.

The court opines that the plaintiff has not produced enough evidence to opines that the hurricane damaged the church roof and, as a result, that the church suffered water damage.  Thus, the court rules that Kern is not qualified to offer an opinion on this matter and that his opinion should be limited to lay testimony.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of John Kern is granted.