Garden Howe Urban Renewal Assocs. V. HACBM Architects Eng’rs Planners, LLC, 2015 N.J.Super LEXIS 28, Docket No A-1144-13T2 (App.Div. February 26, 2015)

Determining admissibility of expert testimony in support of claim for architectural malpractice requires consideration of the specific claims, standard of care identified by expert, and whether expert is qualified to testify as to standards identified.

The architect and the plaintiff entered into a contract whereby the architect agreed to provide architectural services, including structural, mechanical and electrical design, for additions and alterations to an existing four-story building. The plaintiff asserted professional malpractice claims and served an Affidavit of Merit from a licensed architect. The plaintiff later served a report prepared by two professional engineers and a licensed code inspector, which was prepared with assistance of the architect who prepared the Affidavit of Merit. Approximately one month prior to trial, the motion judge granted the architect’s motion to bar the report, finding that the two engineers and a code inspector were not qualified to offer opinions in a case involving architectural malpractice, although the authors were permitted to testify as to factual issues. The Appellate Division reversed and remanded based on its decision in Alliance for Disabled in Action, Inc. v. Continental Props., 371 N.J.Super 398 (App.Div. 2004), aff’d 185 NJ 331 (2005), in which the court held that not all experts must possess a professional license, and whether an expert may testify in a claim for architectural malpractice will depend on the claim involved, the specific allegations and the proposed opinions of the expert. The court specifically noted that statutes governing architecture and engineering recognize that there are areas in which the practices of architecture and engineering overlap and, thus, the trial court should have considered whether the claims at issue fell into those areas. The court also distinguished Hill Int’l v. Atl. City Bd. of Educ. in that Hill Int’l involved consideration of the affidavit of merit statute, whereas the admissibility of expert testimony at trial is governed by N.J.R.E. 702.

Case Law Alerts, 2nd Quarter, April 2015

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