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Superior Court of Pennsylvania Reinforces Liberal Standard For Qualification of Expert Witness

On January 4, 2008, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania reinforced the liberal standard for qualification of an expert witness. In Novitski v. Rusak, on appeal from the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, the Superior Court affirmed the decision of the trial court to admit expert testimony regarding loss of future earning capacity in a motor vehicle accident case. The defendant driver appealed, arguing the trial court should have granted a new trial, molded the verdict, or granted remittitur on the basis the court erred in admitting expert testimony regarding loss of future earning capacity since there was no proper foundation for the testimony.

The testimony at issue concerned qualified experts in vocational rehabilitation and economic losses. Appellant contends the economic expert improperly based his opinion on the rehabilitation expert’s opinion. After careful review, the Superior Court concluded there was competent and concise medical testimony that plaintiff’s accident related injuries impacted on his ability to work, and therefore, the economic expert’s testimony on this subject was properly admitted.

It is well established in this Commonwealth that the standard for qualification of an expert witness is a liberal one. The test to be applied when qualifying an expert witness is whether the witness had any reasonable pretension to specialized knowledge on the subject under investigation. If he does, he may testify and the weight to be given to such testimony is for the trier of fact to determine. It is also well established that a witness may be qualified to render an expert opinion based on training and experience. Formal education on the subject matter of the testimony is not required, nor is it necessary that an expert be a licensed medical practitioner to testify with respect to organic matters. It is not a necessary prerequisite that the expert be possessed of all of the knowledge in a given field, only that he possess more knowledge than is otherwise within the ordinary range of training, knowledge, intelligence, or experience.

Zak v. Prudential Property & Casualty Ins. Co., 713 A.2d 681, 689 (Pa.Super.1998). The court found that the economic expert’s testimony was clearly within his area of expertise and did not require a physician to state the degree to which plaintiff’s capability to work was limited.

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