In many personal injury cases, the victim must hire an expert witness to prove that the party being sued was negligent. But not always.
A woman named Wendy filed a lawsuit against the Port Authority. She had taken a PATH train to get to work in New York City. She claimed that, at the PATH station, she extended her leg to enter an elevator. At that point, the elevator rose three to four inches, causing Wendy to fall. She fractured her knee.
A previous appeals court decision had ruled that someone in Wendy’s position needed to hire an expert witness to prove negligence. The expert needed to explain how the elevator was defective.
Indeed, Wendy did hire an expert witness. But that witness’ report was deemed to be legally deficient. So Wendy relied on a legal doctrine called “res ipsa loquitur.” That is Latin for “the thing speaks for itself.” In other words, Wendy claimed that you didn’t even need an expert to know that an elevator is not supposed to suddenly rise when you are getting into it.
The trial judge enforced the prior appeals court decision. She threw the case out of court. Wendy did not have a valid expert testimony. But Wendy appealed.
VICTIM DOESN’T NEED EXPERT TO PROVE THAT ELEVATOR DEFECTIVE
The appeals court ruled for Wendy. It stated that Wendy could rely on “common knowledge” as to how an elevator is supposed to operate. Expert testimony is only required for things that are beyond the common knowledge of jurors.
But what about the prior appeals court decision that ruled differently? The appeals court in Wendy’s case distinguished the earlier decision. In the prior case, there had been no prior complaints about how the elevator was working. But in Wendy’s case, she was able to prove that there had been prior complaints.
Frankly, I don’t see how prior complaints have much to do with the common knowledge that an elevator is not supposed to lurch up when one enters it. Therefore, I do not believe that expert testimony should be required in such a case. Regardless of whether or not there were prior complaints.