On a construction project, it’s hard to argue that the involved parties — whether an architect, engineer, contractor, subcontractor, developer, etc. — are not experts in their field, i.e., they all some scientific, technical, or specialized knowledge or skill particular to their industry. However, this does NOT mean when they testify in trial, at an arbitration, or at a deposition regarding the construction project they are offering expert opinions / testimony as it pertains to that project. Testifying as to facts based on personal knowledge or involvement on a project makes you a fact witness and is different than evaluating and rending an after-the-fact opinion as to the work of others. This does not minimize your knowledge or expertise; it simply means that relative to the construction project you are involved with, your testimony is that of a fact witness and not of an expert. (It is possible to wear both the fact witness and expert witness hat, but that depends on your subsequent role in the litigation or arbitration.)
A good discussion on this premise can be found in a non-construction case, Buzby v. Turtle Rock Community Association, Inc., 47 Fla. L. Weekly D99a (Fla. 2d DCA 2022), dealing with whether a lawyer was testifying as an expert regarding his own fees. The attorney thought he should be paid for his testimony because he was a professional testifying as to his own attorney’s fees. Yet, his testimony was not actually in the form of expert testimony, but factual testimony as to his own fees. The appellate court held the lawyer was NOT entitled to an expert fee (being paid for this time as an expert), and this rationale can equally be extended to parties testifying on construction projects:
This distinction between testimony (i) describing historical facts from personal knowledge and (ii) evaluating the work of others is not limited to doctors; it applies to attorneys as well.
Thus, the question of whether a witness testifies as an expert – and is thereby entitled to an expert fee – depends not only on the witness’s credentials, but also on whether the witness actually gives expert testimony.
Like a treating physician, [the attorney] testified to facts within his personal knowledge about acts that he either took or supervised. Even though the acts [the attorney] described involved technical matters, [the attorney’s] recollections of them “are facts nonetheless.”
[The attorney’s] decision to volunteer an opinion about his own work did not transform the nature of the deposition or his purpose of testifying.
Buzby, supra (internal citations omitted).
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