Establishing a Standard of Care in a Personal Injury Case

The Supreme Court of New Jersey recently determined that expert testimony is necessary to establish the standard of care relating to the inspection of fire sprinklers. In Wayne Davis v. Brickman Landscaping. Ltd. the plaintiff claimed that a fire sprinkler inspection company was negligent in failing to inform a hotel owner of a design flow in the building’s sprinkler system. Although the defendant admitted that it had a duty to inspect the sprinklers, it challenged the scope of the duty asserted by the plaintiff.

The Court held that in this case, the jury was not competent to supply the standard by which to measure the defendant’s conduct and that plaintiff must establish the proper standard of care and by presenting expert testimony. When deciding whether expert testimony is necessary, a court must consider “whether the matter to be dealt with is so esoteric that jurors of common judgment and experience cannot form a valid judgment as to whether the conduct of the [defendant] was reasonable.” Butler v. Acme Mkts., Inc. 89 N.J, 270, 283 (1982).

In Wayne Davis, the inspection of fire sprinklers by contractors involved a complex process that was beyond the ken of the average juror.  The jury in this case would not be familiar with the training of sprinkler inspectors nor what training would be necessary for an inspector to properly identify system design flaws and recognize the need for an additional sprinkler. Thus, expert testimony on this issue was required. Wayne Davis v. Brickman Landscaping. Ltd. (Decided September 15, 2014).