Summer camp being sued for injury from falling off horse wins lawsuit because the plaintiff failed to find an expert to prove their case.

Failure of the plaintiff to find an expert witness in a case requiring an expert results in dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint.

Ellis v. Y.M.C.A. Camp Mohawk, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110403

State: Connecticut, United States District Court for the District of Connecticut

Plaintiff: Louisa R. Ellis, PPA Elizabeth Ellis and Elizabeth Ellis

Defendant: Y.M.C.A. Camp Mohawk, Inc.

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and consequential damages

Defendant Defenses: Plaintiff cannot prove their case because they do not have an expert witness qualified to prove their claims.

Holding: Plaintiff

Year: 2014

The plaintiff attended the day camp of the defendants. One of the activities was horseback riding. For one of various reasons, the plaintiff was given a pony to ride rather than a horse. While riding the horse, the plaintiff fell over the shoulder or head of the horse suffering injuries.

The plaintiff sued for negligence and consequential damages (which is slightly confusing). The plaintiff hired an expert witness to prove their case that had no qualifications as a horse expert. The plaintiff’s expert was then disqualified. Because under Connecticut law, an expert witness was needed to prove the plaintiff’s case, the case was dismissed. The plaintiff appealed.

Analysis: making sense of the law based upon these facts.

The court first looked at what an expert witness is and when a case requires an expert witness. An expert witness is a person that is qualified to prove testimony as an expert because of their knowledge, skill, experience, training or education. “…the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge [must] help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.”

The plaintiff’s expert had no “education, training, or experience related to horseback riding. In fact, there is no mention of “horses” or “horseback riding” anywhere in his curriculum vitae.” His work experience also provided no background in horses or horseback riding. Consequently, the plaintiff’s expert was not qualified to be an expert witness.

The next issue was whether or not an expert was needed to prove the case.

Thus, the issue the court must resolve is whether the answers to the questions presented by the allegations of negligence in the plaintiffs’ complaint are beyond the ordinary understanding, knowledge, or experience of the average judge or juror.

The court then looked at whether the average jury would know enough about horses to understand the case. This court looked at a prior ruling on the subject:

The court observed that “[w]e are well into the age of the automobile, and the general public in the twenty-first century is not generally as acquainted with horsemanship as it arguably was at the beginning of the twentieth century.” Therefore, the court concluded; it was necessary “for the plaintiffs to produce expert testimony to establish both the standard of care to which the defendant was to be held and a breach of that standard.”

The court reached this conclusion. “The services being provided by the defendant, i.e. horseback riding lessons to minor children, are specialized and beyond the ordinary understanding, knowledge and experience of jurors.”

Because the plaintiff did not have an expert witness, the plaintiff was unable to prove their case. The court upheld the dismissal of the case.

So Now What?

This is an extremely rare decision, in fact, the first I have ever read. It is paramount that if you are involved in litigation, you assist your defense attorney in finding the best expert witness you can for your case. That means two things.

1.                  The expert has the necessary qualifications to be an expert.

2.                The expert has the ability to convey their opinion to the jury in a way the jury will understand.

You can have the most qualified person in the world as your expert but if he or she is unable to convey the message in a way the jury will understand you may still lose your case.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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By Recreation Law              James H. Moss

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