Thursday, August 18, 2016

Materials "Considered" by Construction Expert Are Off Limits

The Rhode Island Supreme Court, in Cashman Equipment Corporation, Inc. v. Cardi Corporation, Inc. interpreted Rule 26 of the R.I. Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure to hold that the Plaintiff subcontractor could not discover all materials that the Defendant general contractor's testifying expert considered when formulating his opinions.

The underlying matter concerned work on a bridge that spans the Sakonnet River in eastern Rhode Island.  Plaintiff served as the bridge foundation subcontractor on the project. Plaintiff alleged that it incurred additional costs because the Defendant general contractor issued a defectively designed cofferdam and materials to Plaintiff.  Defendant disagreed and tapped an engineering expert who opined that cofferdam design was not defective.  Plaintiff sought to investigate the underpinnings of that opinion and requested "all materials and documents, less core attorney work product, including all computer models and drafts of materials and documents, developed and considered by [Defendant's] testifying expert . . . in the process of formulating his written expert opinions.”  Defendant refused to produce the drafts of its expert's models and documents.  Plaintiff retorted with a motion to compel thatthese materials "considered" by the expert were within the scope of Rule 26, were discoverable, and were necessary to "assure effective cross-examination of testifying experts." The Superior Court disagreed and denied the motion to compel.

On writ of certiorari on the interlocutory issue, the Supreme Court started with the section of Rule 26 that embraces expert discovery:
A party may through interrogatories require any other party to identify each person whom the other party expects to call as an expert witness at trial, to state the subject matter on which the expert is expected to testify, and to state the substance of the facts and opinions to which the expert is expected to testify and a summary of the grounds for each opinion. A party may depose any person who has been identified as an expert expected to testify when the expert interrogatory has been responded to by the other party.

Rule 26(b)(4)(A) of the R.I. Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure.  With a nod to the reasonableness of the Plaintiff's request, but constrained by this plain language in the rule, the Court concluded that investigation of experts "is confined by its very terms to discovery through interrogatories or deposition." As a result, Plaintiff was not entitled to review Defendant's expert's documents considered.  The Court went on to hint that a rule change may be in order.

After reaching this decision, the Supreme Court observed that Rhode Island's current Rule 26 diverges from the current Federal Rule, which does require a party to disclose a testifying expert witness's report along with, inter alia, "the data or other information considered by the witness in forming the opinions."
The author, Katharine Kohm, is a committee member for The Dispute Resolver. Katharine practices construction law and commercial litigation in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. She is an associate at Pierce Atwood, LLP in Providence, Rhode Island. She may be contacted at 401-490-3407 or

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