April 30, 2008

Court allows geotechnical engineer to testify about structural issues in a home construction defect case based on "special and practical" knowledge

DONALD W. MCCUTCHEON, ET AL. V. TND ASSOCIATES, L.P., ET AL. (Tenn.Ct.App. April 30, 2008).

A jury awarded the plaintiff homeowners judgment against their residential building contractor for damages sustained by the plaintiffs when the slope upon which their home was constructed failed. The defendant contractor appeals, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing an expert witness to testify outside his area of expertise and by allowing another witness to testify as an expert when the plaintiff had failed to identify him as a witness before trial. Upon careful review of the record, it is our determination that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in the admission of the testimony of these witnesses. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Opinion may be found at the TBA website:

"Mr. Huckaba testified that in his opinion as a professional engineer, the depth of the foundation that he saw was not adequate, based upon his experience and his observation as to the configuration of the lot and the quality of the soil. Thereafter, Mr. Huckaba further testified that he also held opinions set forth in an exhibit designated Geotechnical Expert. ... TND argues that the trial court erred in allowing the admission of the above three statements of opinion because Mr. Huckaba admitted during voir dire that he is not a structural engineer. We disagree." Id.

"a trial court may consider in determining the reliability of an expert’s methodology include: (1) “the expert’s qualifications for testifying on the subject at issue” and (2) “the connection between the expert’s knowledge and the basis for the expert’s opinion.” [] Upon review of the record in this matter, we are compelled to conclude that Mr. Huckaba has both “special as well as practical” knowledge qualifying him to render an expert opinion as to the matters objected to and that the reliability of his methodology is confirmed by his qualifications and by the connection between his knowledge and the basis of his opinion." Id. (citation omitted).