A plaintiff in a Connecticut negligence action appealed from the judgment of the trial court, claiming that the court abused its discretion when it didn’t allow her expert witness to testify as an expert in snow removal. This was in connection with injuries she sustained when she slipped and fell on a patch of snow or ice in the parking lot owned by one of the defendants, and defendant snow removal company was responsible for the snow ice plowing, removal, clearing, and maintenance of the property, including all walkways and sidewalks.
On appeal, Plaintiff argued that she established, during voir dire, that the expert “had engaged in commercial and residential snow removal, including removing snow from apartment complexes… [and that] his qualifications were sufficient to render him an expert in the field of snow removal…” She further said that “the court’s decision to preclude [the expert’s] testimony about snow removal, but allow his testimony regarding building codes, was clearly harmful to the plaintiff…”
Plaintiff disclosed the individual as an expert in the fields of “building codes, fire codes, [Americans with Disabilities Act] accessibility, fall prevention, and safe snow removal.” His resume showed that he had a Bachelor of Science in education, with a focus on “industrial arts, mechanical, electrical, carpentry and architectural drafting.” He also attended a mechanical engineering program and had additional training listed on his resume, including International Code Council’s master code professional certification; Connecticut building official certification; property maintenance and housing inspector; and zoning official certification.
After Plaintiff called the expert to the witness stand, he discussed his extensive education and experience with codes and ordinances. He then testified about his experience with snow removal. The expert testified that he “shoveled snow for [his] mom and dad . . . [and] worked at a marina where . . . [he] plowed there. Eventually, [he] worked for different . . . contractors, [where] in the middle of winter, there’s not a whole lot to do except come out in a snowstorm and shovel snow or plow.” He testified: “If you look around, in the old days, every carpenter had a plow on the front of his truck, so I learned to plow when I was still in high school . . . .” He also stated that he had a multifamily dwelling that he owned and plowed and that his relatives owned a trailer park where he plowed, thereby “bec[oming] familiar with it just because it was the off-season and it was the thing you did.” The plaintiff, thereafter, offered him as an expert on “snow removal and codes and ordinances.”
Defendants objected to his testifying as a snow removal expert on the ground that he hadn’t set forth any expertise on the issue of snow removal. The court agreed and said that, up to that point, it hadn’t heard anything that would rise to the level of expertise in snow removal, but permitted Plaintiff to engage in additional questioning.
Plaintiff then asked the expert more questions about his snow removal background. The expert explained that he was involved with making sure that the lots, the walks were cleared. He testified that he was involved in snow removal while he worked in the construction industry.
Defendants again objected to the expert testifying as an expert in snow removal. The court then explained to Plaintiff’s attorney that it still hadn’t heard anything that would rise to the level of expertise. The court asked counsel whether the expert had gone to school or attended seminars on snow removal, or whether he had read any books or educational materials on snow removal, or whether he had taught classes or seminars. Counsel, again, was permitted to question the expert further.
When Plaintiff’s attorney asked the expert if he had any training in snow removal or whether there is training or schooling for snow removal, he responded that he had practical experience rather than attending classes or formal training.
Defendants’ attorneys stated that they still objected.
The court stated: “Okay. Yeah. I’m not seeing how he has special expertise in it other than having done a little bit of it, and it’s somewhat tangential to his real expertise. The trial judge sustained the objection, but found him to be an expert in codes and ordinances.”
On appeal, Plaintiff claimed that this was error.
Judge William H. Bright Jr. of the Connecticut Appellate Court cited in his opinion to Rule of Evidence 7-2 which states that “[a] witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, education or otherwise may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise concerning scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge, if the testimony will assist the trier of fact in understanding the evidence or in determining a fact in issue.”
“The determination of the qualification of an expert is largely a matter for the discretion of the trial court,” Judge Bright wrote. Further, the judge noted that expert testimony should be admitted when: “(1) the witness has a special skill or knowledge directly applicable to a matter in issue, (2) that skill or knowledge is not common to the average person, and (3) the testimony would be helpful to the court or jury in considering the issues. . . . [T]o render an expert opinion the witness must be qualified to do so and there must be a factual basis for the opinion.”
The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion in precluding the individual from testifying as an expert in the field of snow removal. The trial court found that the testimony demonstrated that the expert‘s knowledge of snow removal was insubstantial and that it was “tangential” to his real expertise in codes and ordinances. The Court of Appeals agreed with this assessment. The expert‘s testimony revealed that his experience in snow removal was a minor part of other jobs—whether in code compliance, ordinance enforcement, or building construction. He hadn’t attended any classes or seminars on the topic, although he admitted that some were available to people who were employed as snow plow operators, he hadn’t read any materials on the topic, and he hadn’t taught any seminars on snow removal. Judge Bright held that it was reasonable for the trial court to conclude from the expert‘s testimony that snow removal was a minor part of his employment over the years and that his experience in snow removal was little more than that common in the construction industry.
Plaintiff’s attorney simply didn’t develop the expert‘s testimony to show that his vast education in code compliance and ordinance enforcement and his work experience qualified him as an expert in snow removal. Plaintiff failed to establish that the expert had the requisite expertise to be qualified as an expert in the field of snow removal.
The judgment was affirmed.