Experts in Georgia Personal Injury

In a recent pair of personal injury cases, a Georgia Court of Appeals considered lawsuits arising from the explosion of a mobile home. The plaintiffs in the case sued the Atlanta Gas Light Company and one of the plaintiff’s landlords, Tinker Mobile Home Park. Three homes at the mobile parks were serviced by natural gas lines installed by Atlanta Gas Light Company. It was regulated with a master meter located on the property. It was not locked or supervised so anyone could turn it on or off.
One night, a resident of the park turned on the master meter to get natural gas for an appliance in his home. Two of the plaintiffs came home with a friend (a third plaintiff). The friend lit a cigarette. This ignited natural gas that had accumulated inside without the plaintiffs knowing. The explosion destroyed the trailer and severely hurt the plaintiff.
Later the plaintiffs found out that Tinker had turned off the natural gas supply at the master meter so the employees of AGLC could install an electrical heating and air conditioning system. The employees had not capped the gas pipeline and had not shut off the service valve. This had allowed the natural gas to accumulate.
The plaintiffs sued AGLC alleging negligence in failing to lock the master meter. The plaintiffs alleged that the failure to lock the master meter with no warning sticker made the master meter a dangerous condition. They alleged AGLC had violated its own procedures and this was negligence per se. They also sued Tinker, the owner of the park, for negligence and negligence per se.
They submitted an affidavit with their complaints. The affidavit was from an expert who opined that the standard of care was that AGLC had to establish policies and practices to ensure a closed meter valve was secured by lock.
AGLC and Tinker tried to exclude the expert’s affidavit arguing that the plaintiffs had not shown he was qualified to opine as an expert in the relevant areas.  The trial court denied these motions, but then granted their motions for reconsideration. The judge concluded the plaintiffs hadn’t met their burden of showing the expert’s qualifications. The judge also reasoned that plaintiffs were required to present expert witness testimony on applicable standards of care. Therefore, once the expert’s testimony was excluded for lack of qualification, summary judgment could be granted to AGLC.
The plaintiffs appealed. They argued the opinion testimony should not have been excluded and that he was qualified to opine on natural gas industry regulations and standards of care. They also argued that his testimony should be presented to the jury to determine credibility.
The appellate court disagreed. It explained that the plaintiffs’ expert’s work experience as a small business propane delivery guy who had attended various seminars and worked as a consultant on issues of deregulation were not sufficiently reliable to be admissible. The defendants had pointed out that the expert admitted there were no federal pipeline safety regulations imposing the duties he sought to impose. He had no relevant education nor had he ever worked in the industry, not worked for a business subject to federal pipeline safety regulations.
The court explained that reliability of an expert must be examined by considering various factors. The witness must explain the principles and methods employed by the witness to reach a conclusion.
If you are seriously injured because of somebody else’s negligence, you may have grounds for a lawsuit. Experienced Atlanta personal injury attorney Terrence R. Bethune can evaluate your case and fight for any compensation you may deserve. Contact us at 404-875-7800 or via our online form.