Structural Engineering Expert Witness Testimony Allowed, in Part

Plaintiff filed suit against the defendant related to the construction of a building.  Defendant hired a Structural Engineering Expert Witness to provide testimony.  Plaintiff filed a motion to exclude the testimony of this expert.  The court granted the motion to exclude in part and denied the motion in part.

Facts:  This case (Jeanes v. McBride et al – United States District Court – Western District of Louisiana – June 24th, 2019) involves the construction of a building on the plaintiff’s property and discussed the project with the defendant.  The plaintiff filed this lawsuit against the defendant stating that the defendant did not obtain the permit needed to construct the building and that there were numerous defects in the building.  The defendant hired Dr. Jerry Householder (Structural Engineering Expert Witness) to provide testimony.  The plaintiff filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.

Discussion:  Dr. Householder’s report states that the plaintiff acted as her own general contractor and that the Building was constructed, “in conformance with the plans and within the standards expected of a contractor.”  The plaintiff argues that Dr. Householder should not be allowed to offer testimony containing legal opinions or legal conclusions. and that Dr. Householder should not be permitted to testify about design defects.

The plaintiff argues that there are fifteen opinions in Dr. Householder’s report that she argues are legal opinions and should be excluded.  The court opines that Dr. Householder has not been certified as a legal expert and could not be under Rule 704.  The court notes that Dr. Householder does not interpret technical terms used in the construction proposal.  The court opines that Dr. Householder does not base his opinions on technical terms of the contract and, thus, will not be allowed to offer legal conclusions.

The court also opines that Dr. Householder opines generally about the legal responsibilities of contractors and subcontractors.  The court also opines that these are legal conclusions and that Dr. Householder will not be allowed to offer legal conclusions about the responsibilities of the parties.

In addition, the court opines that Dr/ Householder may not provide an opinion that the defendant is not responsible for design defects in the building.

The plaintiff also argues that, although Dr. Householder mentions the design of the building in a few areas of his report, he does not opine on the merits of the building design or the presence of design defects.  Thus, the plaintiff argues that Dr. Householder should be allowed to testify about the presence of design defects in the building.  The court notes that Dr. Householder opines about several design defects, and will be permitted to testify on them but only to the extent that his opinions were included in his report or at his deposition.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Dr. Jerry Householder is granted in part and denied in part.