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Mar 07 2017

Expert With No Industry Experience May Give Opinion On Failing To Meet Industry Standard

March 7, 2017 (Houston)

James SmithBy James Smith – “Environmental Alert” (Schirrmeister, Diaz-Arrastia, Brem LLP)

A Texas court has determined that an expert’s general experience is adequate, when the industry is not so specialized as to require specific experience, or when the general experience was applicable in the specific case.

In Cura-Cruz v. CenterPoint Energy, an expert provided the opinion that CenterPoint Energy failed to meet the standard of care, and that this negligence caused a fire that resulted in millions of dollars in damages.

CenterPoint successfully convinced the trial judge that he could not testify, because he had no utility industry experience.  The 14th Court of Appeals, a mid-level appellate court in Houston, Texas, reversed, saying that his lack of industry experience did not preclude him from testifying, because his general experience with electrical equipment was adequate, even absent specific utility experience.

Fire Was Allegedly from a Transformer

The expert claimed that the fire originated in a transformer that CenterPoint failed to properly inspect and maintain.

CenterPoint successfully convinced the trial court to preclude his testimony.  CenterPoint argued that his lack of a degree in engineering and lack of utility experience prevented him from being qualified as an expert.

The appellate Court reversed.  It determined that his years of experience with electrical equipment gave him adequate qualifications.  The Court also disagreed regarding his lack of utility experience, for two reasons.

Relevant Standards Applicable to Utilities Were Not Special and Were Clear

First, the Court determined that the standards to determine what a reasonable utility should do under the circumstances were no different than those applicable to other persons with responsibility for inspecting and maintaining electrical equipment.  Therefore, the expert’s testimony would be applicable to a utility, just as to any other person.

Second, the Court stated that the standards applicable to utilities, such as those stated in CenterPoint’s tariff, were clear and that this expert had the ability to understand and apply those standards in this case.

Issues of Actual Cause and Expert’s Methodology Remain

The Court also noted that CenterPoint had not, as yet, adequately presented arguments that the expert’s methodology could not support his conclusions as to the origin of the fire.  The Court’s opinion suggests that CenterPoint can still raise that challenge on remand.

For a copy of the Court’s opinion click here.

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