De Long v. County of Erie

457 N.E.2d 717



The admissibility of expert testimony on a particular point is addressed to the discretion of the trial court. Expert opinion is proper when it would help to clarify an issue calling for professional or technical knowledge possessed by the expert and beyond the ken of the typical juror.


Respondent estate administrator filed a wrongful death action against appellants, city and county. A jury found the city and the county each 50 percent liable for negligent processing of and response to the decedent's call for emergency assistance made on a special 911 number serviced by appellants. The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. The city and the county appealed. The city and the court contended that they owed no special duty to protect the decedent from an attack by a burglar. They also claimed that the trial court erred in permitting expert testimony concerning the monetary value of the decedent's housewife services on the issue of damages.


Were a city and county liable for a 911 response failure and was expert testimony as to the value of household services admissible to show an economic market value for those types of services?




On appeal, the court held that there was ample basis for the jury to conclude that neither the city nor the county exercised ordinary care. The city and the county advised those seeking emergency assistance to call the 911 number rather than the general number for the local police which created a special relationships requiring ordinary care. Also, the decedent was affirmatively assured that help would be there right away. The court also found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the expert testimony of an economist as to the monetary value of the housewife services. The evidence was relevant to the issue of wrongful death damages. The use of a qualified expert aided the jury in evaluating the housewife services both as to the value of those services and also to dispel the notion that such services were of little or no financial value in the marketplace.

The court affirmed the judgment that the city and the county were liable for the decedent's death due to negligent processing of her call for emergency assistance.

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