Architect Barred From Testifying Decay Caused Kansas Bowling Alley Collapse

by Tara Arick on March 20, 2013 · 0 comments


- From LexisNexis® Mealey’s™ Daily Legal News.

An architect who has no engineering experience cannot testify on behalf of plaintiffs in an insurance coverage dispute that decay contributed to a bowling alley collapse, a federal judge in Kansas held March 18 (Quality Time, et al. v. West Bend Mutual Insurance Co., No. 12-1008-JTM, D. Kan.; 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36749).
U.S. Judge J. Thomas Marten of the District of Kansas held that Leonhard Calfisch was not qualified to testify, nor was his methodology acceptable under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceutical Inc. (509 U.S. 579 [1993]).

Decay Debated

In July 2011, a bowling alley owned by Quality Time Inc. and Tammy Geldenhuys collapsed. They sought coverage from West Bend Mutual Insurance Co., which investigated the claim and ultimately denied it in December 2011. The property owners filed suit.

Plaintiff expert Calfisch opined that the collapse was caused by the combined effect of the weight of the scoring monitors, the defective construction methods used in 1958 and decay.

Calfisch, an architect, has worked on projects compromised by decay, but he has never conducted any forensic examination of a building collapse, the judge said. He has no expertise in wood science or strength, and he agreed that an engineer must do the calculations for failure analysis, the judge noted. Further, Calfisch performed no calculations or tests to support his conclusions, the judge said.

Not Qualified

“The plaintiffs suggest that West Bend is trying to have the court ‘determine as a matter of law that decay and deterioration . . . played no role’ in the collapse of the alley,” the judge said. “This is incorrect. The cause of the building collapse is a matter for expert testimony, and Calfisch has candidly acknowledged that he has no expertise in decay or in wood science or strength, that he detected no sign of decay in the tie members, and that his opinions as to decay are speculative.”

The court determined that Calfisch’s proposed testimony failed to satisfy either of the two tests for admissibility because he is not qualified to address the subject and because his testimony would not be helpful to the jury.

Counsel to West Bend is J. Philip Davidson of Hinkle Law Firm n Wichita, Kan. William J. Fitzpatrick of Fitzpatrick & Bass in Independence, Kan., represent the plaintiffs.

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