Expert Testimony Allowed In Motorcycle Collision Case (NJ)

An expert’s bare opinion that has no support in factual evidence or similar data is a mere net opinion that New Jersey courts have held to be inadmissible and not for the jury’s consideration.

In a recent decision in Townsend v. Pierre, et al., the appellate court addressed whether the trial court correctly deemed the opinions of the plaintiff’s liability expert as being net opinions when it decided to bar that expert from testifying at trial.

The Townsend case involved a tragic collision between a motorcycle and a car at the intersection of Garfield Drive and Levitt Parkway.  This intersection was controlled by a stop sign, but the plaintiffs alleged that the adjacent property had overgrown bushes that obstructed Pierre’s vision whose intention it was to make a left turn onto Levitt Parkway. At her deposition, Pierre testified that when she initially stopped at the stop sign, the bushes obstructed her vision.  She then started inching up, stopping four times.  Once she had a clear view, she looked to her left, saw nothing and then started to turn.  At this point, the accident occurred.  Pierre’s front seat passenger acknowledged that Pierre did look to her left before turning and this prompted the passenger to do the same, but she denied any obstruction of her view.

The plaintiffs’ engineering liability expert opined that the bushes were negligently maintained and violated various standards and ordinances pertaining to height restrictions.  The expert determined that the stop sign’s location and the overgrowth of the bushes proximately caused the accident.  The property owners moved to bar the plaintiffs’ expert from testifying, arguing that his opinions lacked any factual basis since Pierre testified that her vision was not obstructed by the bushes at the time of impact.  The trial court granted the motion and held that the overgrown bushes were not a proximate cause of the accident.

The Appellate Court  reversed and held that whether Pierre had an unobstructed view is a credibility-based question of fact for the jury.  The appellate court further noted that the plaintiff’s expert’s opinion was also based on specifications in various ordinances, as well as measurements taken of the intersection.  While the court agreed that the unconditional admission of the expert’s opinion on causation would have been inappropriate, it noted that the expert could be presented with hypothetical questions at trial, coupled with a corresponding limiting instruction that would allow his opinion to be considered by the jury.

Special thanks to Heather Aquino for her contribution to this post.  For more information, please contact Nicole Brown at nbrown@wcmlaw.com.