The Appellate Group

Arreguin-Leon v. Hadco Construction

Arreguin-Leon v. Hadco Construction, LLC, 2020 UT 59 (Petersen, J.)

Expert Testimony

Arreguin was injured while installing an exit sign on the shoulder of I-15. At the time of the accident, there were no traffic control measures in place at the accident site. He sued Hadco for failing to take necessary safety measures to protect workers from highway traffic. He prevailed at trial but was reversed on appeal by the Utah Court of Appeals, because he elicited undisclosed testimony from his expert witness at trial. On certiorari, The Utah Supreme Court affirmed the Utah Court of Appeals’ conclusion, holding:

  • The court of appeals did not err when it concluded that the district court committed legal error in overruling Hadco’s objection to the expert testimony. Just because a party opponent selects a deposition rather than an expert report does not mean that an expert’s subsequent trial testimony can be a free-for-all. The district court should not have permitted the expert to offer the disputed testimony based on the arguments before it. The contents of extra-record documents not admitted during a trial court sidebar but considered by the court of appeals are not necessary to a determination of whether the court of appeals erred in making its ultimate determination, and the court, therefore, does not reach that issue. 
  • The court of appeals did not err in its construction and application of the standard for demonstrating harmful error on appeal. The incorrect language the court of appeals used to discuss the standard was merely shorthand for a standard it applied that is substantially similar to the standard: “harmless error is an error that is sufficiently inconsequential that there is no reasonable likelihood that it affected the outcome of the proceedings.” And there is no legal error in the court’s application of the law. The district court’s error was not harmless.
  • Rule 11 of the Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure is flagged for consideration by the appellate rules advisory committee. First, the rule is ambiguous inasmuch as it does not define “all of the papers in a civil case.” Second, the language “if any difference arises as to whether the record truly discloses what occurred in the trial court, the difference shall be submitted to and settled by that court and the record made to conform to the truth” is unclear: the scope of what is meant by making the record “conform to the truth” may not be entirely clear in all contexts. And third, the rule does not define error or accident in its declaration that a party may modify the record if “anything material to either party is misstated or is omitted from the record by error or . . . accident.”
  • Whether a party must renew a motion for directed verdict after trial to preserve the motion for appeal under Rule 50(b) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure is also flagged for the civil rules advisory committee.

Read the full court opinion