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NY Court Shows Why Speculation Is No Substitute For Qualifications When It Comes to Selecting An Expert

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Jonathan Cooper
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In a decision that was handed down on July 7, New York's Appellate Division, First Department (which, as set forth previously, oversees the courts in the Bronx and Manhattan) issued a stark reminder, particularly to those attorneys who practice in the personal injury arena, that before someone's "expert" opinion will be given any deference, it must be shown that this individual has the pertinent training, certifications and familiarity with the relevant laws, rules and regulations in that field.

In this case, Schechter v. 3320 Holding, LLC, the plaintiff sustained serious personal injuries when he opened an elevator door and stepped into an empty elevator shaft. In opposing plaintiff's arguments that the defendant building owner and elevator maintenance company should be deemed automatically liable for this elevator accident, the defendants relied on the testimony of an elevator maintenance employee, who opined that the interlock for the cab door had malfunctioned because both excess mop water and urine had gotten into the interlock, and caused it to stop working. In reversing the lower court's order, the appellate court rejected this argument out of hand, holding that the defendants' employee could not be considered an expert regarding elevator maintenance because he had no formal training or education regarding elevators, and was unfamiliar with the relevant codes and regulations. Although there was a dissenting judge to this opinion, I think the courts should take a more active role in assuring that the parties' experts are indeed appropriately qualified before accepting their opinion or giving it any deference.

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Jonathan Cooper
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