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Larsen v. 401 Main Street, Inc.

Supreme Court of Nebraska

March 8, 2019

Lee Larsen and Amy Larsen, husband and wife, and Plattsmouth Chiropractic Center, Inc., a Nebraska corporation, appellants,
v.
401 main street, inc., a Nebraska corporation, doing business as Quart House Pub, and H. & C, Inc., a Nebraska corporation, appellees.

         1. Trial: Expert Witnesses: Appeal and Error. An appellate court reviews de novo whether the trial court applied the correct legal standards for admitting an expert's testimony.

         2. ___: ___: ___ . An appellate court reviews for abuse of discretion how the trial court applied the appropriate standards in deciding whether to admit or exclude an expert's testimony.

         3. Summary Judgment: Appeal and Error. An appellate court will affirm a lower court's grant of summary judgment if the pleadings and admitted evidence show that there is no genuine issue as to any material facts or as to the ultimate inferences that may be drawn from those facts and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         4. ___: ___. In reviewing a summary judgment, an appellate court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the judgment was granted and gives that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences deducible from the evidence.

         5. Courts: Expert Witnesses. Under the Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993), and Schafersman v. Agland Coop, 262 Neb. 215, 631 N.W.2d 862 (2001), framework, the trial court acts as a gatekeeper to ensure the evidentiary relevance and reliability of an expert's opinion.

         6. Trial: Expert Witnesses. Under the framework established by Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993), and Schafersman v. Agland Coop, 262 Neb. 215, 631 N.W.2d 862 (2001), if an expert's opinion involves scientific or [302 Neb. 455] specialized knowledge, a trial court must determine whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is valid (reliable). It must also determine whether that reasoning or methodology can be properly applied to the facts in issue.

          Appeal from the District Court for Cass County: Michael A. Smith, Judge.

          Thomas A. Grennan, and Adam J. Wachal, of Gross & Welch, PC, L.L.O., for appellants.

          Robert D. Mullin, Jr., of McGrath, North, Mullin & Kratz, PC, L.L.O., for appellees.

          Heavican, C.J., Miller-Lerman, Cassel, Stacy, Funke, Papik, and Freudenberg, JJ.

          Papik, J.

         A fire broke out in the basement of the Quart House Pub, a bar in Plattsmouth, Nebraska. The fire spread and damaged nearby real and personal property belonging to Lee Larsen and Amy Larsen and Plattsmouth Chiropractic Center, Inc. (collectively Plattsmouth Chiropractic). Plattsmouth Chiropractic sued the entities that owned the bar and its premises (collectively Quart House), alleging that equipment located in the basement of the bar had been negligently maintained. The district court did not allow testimony from Plattsmouth Chiropractic's expert on the cause of the fire and sustained Quart House's motion for summary judgment. Plattsmouth Chiropractic now appeals those rulings.

         We find that the district court did not abuse its discretion in striking the testimony of Plattsmouth Chiropractic's expert as to the cause of the fire. And without that testimony, Plattsmouth Chiropractic could not present evidence that would allow a finder of fact to reasonably conclude that Quart House's negligence caused the fire and resulting damage. For this reason, summary judgment was proper. Finding no error, we affirm.

         [302 Neb. 456]

         BACKGROUND

         Pleadings, Motions to Strike, and Motion ...


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