The Importance of Expert Opinion in Proving Damage to Real Property

The Minnesota Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion emphasizing the importance of proving damage to real property using a qualified expert. In Dreyer v. Reierson Construction, Inc., homeowners claimed that their property was damaged when a pipe ruptured and water backed up into their home. No. A23-0081, 2023 WL 4199162 (Minn. Ct. App. June 26, 2023). The trial court dismissed their claims, however, after the homeowners failed to timely disclose expert opinions they would use at trial to prove the amount of property damage. The homeowners appealed and the Minnesota Court of Appeals issued a non-precedential opinion upholding part of the trial court’s order and reversing part of its order. The Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to admit testimony by experts whom the homeowners had not disclosed to the defendants.  The trial court had erred, however, in dismissing the lawsuit outright when it was possible that the homeowners could establish the value of the damage through other means. The homeowners had submitted inventories of lost items of personal property. Because these items were completely destroyed, the proper measure of damages was the market value of the destroyed items before they were lost. The court also held that a property owner may testify about the market value of property without any need to lay foundation for the property owner’s expertise, relying on Vreeman v. Davis, 348 N.W.2d 756, 757 (Minn. 1984). Because the trial court did not consider the inventories of lost personal property, the Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal and sent the case back to the trial court to consider whether these inventories were an adequate way of establishing the value of the lost property.

Although this case demonstrates a partial success for the homeowners in reversing the dismissal of their lawsuit, the homeowners paid a high price for their failure to adequately disclose the basis for their damages before trial. While the homeowners had restoration and remodeling estimates proving the amount of damages to their homes, their failure to disclose that information as required by the trial court’s scheduling order, meant that those estimates were excluded at trial. This is a harsh result in this lawsuit that resulted in the homeowners being unable to prove what was likely the most costly element of their damages: the cost of restoring and remodeling the homes. In any lawsuit, but particularly when damages will be established by expert opinion, it is essential that you have capable attorneys who will preserve and protect your rights in the lawsuit. Our firm will do what it takes to preserve your rights.

Please contact Steven Liening at 952-746-2130 to discuss how we can help you.