New Jersey Supreme Court Rejects Expert Report On Causation as a Net Opinion

03.31.15

The New Jersey Supreme Court’s recent ruling striking a plaintiff’s expert report (Townsend v. Pierre, 2015 NJ LEXIS 273 March 12, 2015) is encouraging for appropriate challenges to the sufficiency of expert reports.
In this wrongful death/survivorship action the plaintiff’s estate alleged that the defendant landowner’s overgrown shrubbery obstructed the defendant driver’s view when he attempted a left turn at a nearby intersection that led to the collision with the plaintiff motorcyclist. While even the defendant driver denied that his view of traffic was obstructed by the landscaping, the plaintiff’s expert concluded that his account of the accident was “mistaken,” and found that the so-called obstruction from the landowner’s overgrown shrubbery was the proximate cause of this accident.

The Supreme Court found that the expert opinion on causation was a “net opinion” that was not only unsupported by the factual evidence, but directly contradicted that evidence. The “net opinion” rule stands for the proposition that expert reports must be based on factual evidence or supportable data. Often times, however, the courts have been reluctant to strike an expert report on the reasoning that any deficiencies of the report goes to the weight and credibility of the report (as opposed to its admissibility) and the expert would be subject to cross-examination by the opposing party. Especially in instances where proximate causation is an issue, the courts have historically left it for the jury to evaluate the credibility of the proposed expert. However, the Townsend decision now provides greater ammunition for the defense bar when challenging expert reports bereft of any factual foundation or analytical data.

For more information, please contact Richard S. Ranieri at rranieri@wglaw.com or 973.242.2230 or Anthony T. Ling at aling@wglaw.com or 973.854.1073.

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Lexi Burchmore
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