When I first decided to become a landscape, horticulture, arboriculture, site construction and development forensic expert witness, a business associate asked me which side I worked for, the defendant or plaintiff. Since I was new to the industry, I was somewhat taken aback at his remark. In my mind, I did not have a pre-determined preference on representing one side or the other.
With some time and experience under my belt, including working for both defendant and plaintiff cases, my conclusion is still the same, I do not have a preference because I use impartiality and standard of care to determine which client to represent. Yes, defendant cases typically are backed by insurance companies paying the bill, so from that perspective, the defendant side has deeper pockets, but that does not influence my decision to represent a defendant or plaintiff. While a plaintiff might be financially constricted, I have had no problems with getting paid for professional expert witness services.
I offer forensic expert witness consulting services for defendant or plaintiff clients and screen potential clients for satisfaction or failure to provide the proper standard of care. Here is the full article:
Defendant or Plaintiff Expert?
When I began offering landscape, horticulture, arboriculture and site development forensic expert witness consulting services throughout California, a business associate asked which “side” I worked for, the defendant or plaintiff. He did not want to refer the incorrect potential client to me. My answer to him then remains the same now, it does not matter whether a defendant or plaintiff client, I provide impartial expert opinions based on discovery, due diligence and the technical knowledge and experience I bring to the case.
Of course, impartial cuts both ways, and if discovery information leads me to an impartial opinion not in the best interest of my client, my professional integrity requires I inform the client why my opinion does NOT support their position. Fortunately, that difficult situation has not occurred; one of the reasons is careful screening of incoming requests by attorneys and paralegals.
It is challenging to maintain a neutral position during a telephone discussion with a potential client. Naturally, we all want to build our practice, so when a potential business contact occurs over the phone, careful listening, screening and asking pertinent questions is extremely important to ascertain whether the information provided by this potential client is a position I will arrive at independently on an impartial basis. Regardless of the information and position propounded by the attorney, maintaining my neutrality during a telephone conversation is essential to protect my integrity as an impartial expert who arrives at his opinion based on fact and discovery, not being bought or convinced by a client’s position.
Whether a defendant or plaintiff contact, the common thread is determination of satisfaction or failure to meet industry or professional standard of care. Ascertaining this information during initial discussions is an essential tool I use in screening potential clients. If a defendant call, the information provided during questioning should establish a reasonable degree of certainty the client satisfied the professional or industry standard of care, conversely a plaintiff contact will hopefully provide information detailing why the defendant failed to satisfy the standard of care and should be found negligent.
For this reason, I provide expert witness services for both defendant and plaintiff cases because determination of standard of care from a technical perspective must be an objective, impartial process. Perhaps I’m fortunate; the attorney’s I have worked with had a thorough, detailed understanding of their client’s position that simplified the screening process. They provided sufficient information and facts that instilled confidence I would be able to render an impartial expert opinion in their favor if discovery supported their information, which has consistently turned out to be case.
In addition to being retained as an expert for both plaintiff and defendant landscape construction defect cases, the same is true for horticulture and arboriculture cases involving plant and tree maintenance issues. Cases include plaintiff claims of incorrect plant selection, deficient landscape design, improper maintenance practices, tree risk and failure, any number of horticulture and arboriculture issues that have caused property damage, personal injury and even vehicular fatalities. The common thread in plant related cases is determination of standard of care which may include several parties such as the landscape architect and design, standard of care on the part of the construction and maintenance contractors, sometimes public agency interaction and their professional standard of care is examined, and often times all of the above are included as part of the expert opinion.
Due to the technical nature of the job, a landscape expert must be extremely adept in the many facets of construction, arboriculture, horticulture and other related fields. The expert must have the necessary skills and experience to efficiently distill all kinds of construction information to make an impartial standard of care determination. Of equal importance to data gathering, the expert must be able to communicate technical expertise in the simplest manner possible, while still producing convincing results.
As a landscape, horticulture, arboriculture, site development and construction expert, I occupy a relatively small but very important niche in the legal industry. Landscape, horticulture, arboriculture and site construction projects exist all around us, whether at a residential, commercial, industrial, recreational, private or public setting, accidents occur daily. Latent construction defects go undetected for years before manifesting into a serious situation. Trees drop limbs and fall over, damaging property and causing serious injury. Unlicensed or unknowledgeable contractors abound, many using illegal, outdated contracts, or worse, no written contract, both inexperienced or overly aggressive general contractors and subcontractors create project conflicts and many poorly informed property owners and managers suffer the consequences.
So much of my consulting work involves forensic determination of the cause of an accident or failure. In landscape construction, forensic analysis is extremely challenging due to the living and changing nature of the plant material, soils, segregating and determining design flaws versus construction contracting issues versus maintenance contracting practices, all are intertwined into a potentially difficult knot to unravel. Adding to the complexity of certain cases is the situation involving general and sub-contractor conflicts and determination of who did or did not satisfy standard of care. I discuss this situation in a previous article calledStandard of Care in the Landscape Industry
Therefore, using a technically experienced and professionally educated consultant with a thorough background in all landscape, horticulture and arboriculture disciplines can make all the difference, regardless if a defendant or plaintiff case.
Rappoport Development Consulting Services LLC is a full-service landscape, horticulture, arboriculture, and land development consulting firm, offering landscape expert witness services for attorneys and insurers. Jeremy Rappoport is a professional horticulturist, ISA certified arborist and tree risk assessor and a C-27 landscape contractor.