The Washington Court of Appeals recently addressed the issue of whether a trial court properly admitted expert industry custom testimony in a premises liability case. In Ponce v. Mountaineers (Wash. Ct. App. Nov. 2, 2015), the plaintiff’s son died in a sledding accident at the defendant’s recreational facility. The family had parked along the side of a road and was walking from their car up the hill on the access trail, when their son abruptly sat on his sled. The sled traveled down the hill and onto the road, where the son was struck and killed by a passing vehicle. His parents brought a personal injury action, alleging that the defendant failed to exercise ordinary care by not maintaining a barrier at the base of its access path to prevent sledders from entering the roadway.
Both the plaintiff and the defendant presented an expert witness to testify as to the standard of care owed to the victim by the defendant. The plaintiff’s expert testified that the defendant should have installed a barrier between the access path and the road, and stated that by failing to do so, the defendant created a hazardous condition. The defendant’s expert testified that the access path was consistent with industry best practices. Before trial, the plaintiff moved to exclude testimony from the defendant’s winter recreation expert, arguing that he lacked a sufficient foundation. The trial court denied the motion. After the conclusion of the trial, the jury found in favor of the defendant. On appeal, the plaintiff contended that the trial court erred by allowing the expert testimony.