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Expert Testimony in Slip and Fall Cases

We all know that accidents can happen anytime and anywhere—at work, at home, while shopping, while out and around, just enjoying life. Generally, when it comes to accidents that occur on public property, the property owner or other person in control of the property, has a duty to maintain the premises and provide a safe place for the public. When it comes to a lawsuit claiming that the property owner was negligent, whether or not the property owner has satisfied this duty is often a key question, and experts may be called upon to offer opinions as to whether the property owner has or has not satisfied this duty. In a recent Maryland federal court case, Rice v. Saloncentric Inc., which involved an injury that occurred while a customer was shopping for beauty products in a retail store, the court considered whether expert testimony on this question should be included or excluded from the jury’s consideration.

What Happened in Rice v. Saloncentric Inc.?

In this case, the plaintiff went to the defendant’s store to shop for beauty products. As she was taking a product off of a shelf, the shelving unit that housed the shelf fell on top of her, and she suffered injuries as a result. The shelving unit was not bolted or otherwise attached to the wall or floor when the accident occurred.

The plaintiff’s expert reviewed materials submitted to him about the accident, and also visited the site of the accident. He did not tell the store about the nature of his visit, and inspected a shelving unit that turned out not to be the one that caused the injury. The expert never examined or inspected the shelving unit that actually caused the plaintiff’s injury.

What Did the Plaintiff’s Expert Say?

The opinion advanced by the plaintiff’s expert was that by failing to bolt the shelving unit into the wall, the store created an unsafe condition. The expert also said that the store breached a duty to regularly inspect the shelving unit for safety. One issue before the court was whether the expert’s testimony was sufficiently reliable.

What Did the Court Decide?

The court decided:

  • The expert’s opinion that the shelving unit was unsafe because it was not anchored to the wall was sufficiently reliable for consideration by the jury, but
  • The expert’s testimony about the defendant’s duty to inspect the shelving unit was not sufficiently reliable for consideration by the jury
  • The opinion about the safety of the shelving unit was reliable because of the expert’s extensive background, education and training (as an engineer), even though the expert did not inspect the actual shelving unit that caused the injury. The expert’s opinion about the duty to inspect the shelving unit was not sufficiently reliable because the basis of this opinion, and the methodology used by the expert in coming to this opinion, was not clear.

Expert testimony and opinions can be an important part of a negligence case. Our experienced Waldorf slip and fall lawyers can help If you have been injured and have questions about experts, or would like to know more about the role of expert testimony in your negligence case. To learn more, contact The Law Office of Robert R. Castro.

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