Is an Expert Witness Needed to Interpret Building Codes?
In almost every legal field, experts are vital to proving or defending a case. This is also true in construction law, where, as you can imagine, there are often highly technical construction related factual scenarios that a judge or jury must understand. Certainly, the average lay witness would not have enough expertise to testify as to contracting techniques, or construction related defects, or anything else that results in construction lawsuits.
But what about the Florida building code? Is an expert needed to interpret the code?
An expert witness is usually used for “scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge” where the expert “will assist the trier of fact in understanding the evidence, or in determining a fact in issue.”
On the one hand, the building code is just that—a code of laws and rules, which should be able to be interpreted by a court (or the fact finders in the case), without an expert. There is nothing technical or scientific about reading laws or codes.
Experts are not supposed to testify as to what the law says. After all, experts aren’t needed to tell us what real estate law or injury law or family law statutes or codes may say.
On the other hand, building codes, like construction itself, can be complex, containing scientific or technical terms, and may be rooted in an understanding of construction related processes and procedures. An average judge or jury may not have the expertise in construction to interpret a building code—or at least, to interpret it and apply it to a specific factual scenario—without the help of an expert.
Cases Say No Expert Needed-Usually
Most cases say that interpreting law must be done by a court, and thus, expert testimony on what a building code says or means, is not appropriate. In fact, using an expert to testify as to what a building code says, can lead to a verdict being overturned, as the expert would be interfering with the ultimate duties of the fact finder (judge or jury).
However, that does not mean that experts have no role in interpreting the building code. There are some cases that say that if the code contains terms of art, scientific terms, or laws that use technical terms that the average person (or the court) would not be expected to understand, then experts can be used to explain those phrases.
Additionally, experts can certainly be used to describe how a specific part of the building code applies to the facts of a given case. For example, an expert could be used to testify that a particular construction technique is what the code allows, or prohibits, by providing technical insight into the construction technique used.
Our construction law attorneys are ready to help you litigate your construction law case, or defend you against a construction law case. Call our Fort Lauderdale construction attorneys at Sweeney Law P.A. at 954 440-3993 for a consultation.