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Evidence — admissibility of expert testimony — aspirational standards

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit


Evidence — admissibility of expert testimony — aspirational standards

Expert testimony in a negligence case is admissible under Rule 702, FRE, when the subject matter is aspirational safety standards that represent an authoritative statement by security professionals regarding recommended practices in the field, and when the proposed testimony reflects the application of reliable principles and methods to the specific facts of the case.

“With regard to the IACLEA standards, there is no question that these guidelines, standing alone, do not establish the standard of care. As the district court noted, they are only aspirational practices, not a formal industry standard; even formal industry standards are not dispositive as to negligence liability. Michaels v. Mr. Heater, Inc., 411 F. Supp. 2d 992, 997 (W.D. Wis. 2006). But the relevant question for admissibility purposes is not whether the IACLEA guidelines are controlling in the sense of an industry code, or even how persuasive they are. It is only whether consulting them is a methodologically sound practice on which to base an expert opinion in the context of this case. For a claim of this nature, we are convinced that it is. The IACLEA guidelines are an authoritative set of recommended practices specific to the field of campus security and are regularly consulted by campus security professionals. The extent of Carthage’s deviations from these practices may surely inform an expert opinion as to whether Carthage met its standard of care. …

“Dr. Kennedy’s testimony about the insecure basement door—specifically, the absence of a prop alarm—is directly relevant to the facts of this case. The district court did not separately address this aspect of his testimony, which is sufficiently reliable—prop alarms are recommended under the IACLEA standards—and was reliably linked to the facts of this case. This part of Dr. Kennedy’s testimony should not have been excluded.”

Summary judgment vacated and the case is remanded.

11-3061 Lees v. Carthage College and Lexington Insurance Company

Eastern District of Wisconsin, Randa, J., Sykes, J.

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