Gross v. Victoria Station

In the case of Gross v. Victoria Station, Plaintiff Gross owned a breeding stallion and sport horse, "Traffic Secretary," that was boarded at Defendant Victoria Station's stable.  The horse escaped from his paddock, sustained lacerations, and became lame.  Plaintiff claimed that as a result of the horse's injuries stemming from the escape, the horse would no longer be able to compete in the sport of eventing, which would cause lost breeding profits.  In choosing an expert, Defendant secured an independent medical examination ("IME") from a board certified veterinarian that had years of experience specializing in lameness evaluations. This expert veterinarian was also well respected within the state of Minnesota.  After the IME, the expert veterinarian found that the horse had a pre-existing chronic right front lameness from his time racing on the track.  Further discovery revealed records from the track that showed the chronic right front lameness inhibited the horse's ability to perform during his time on the track.  The horse was retired from the track and entered the sport of eventing.

After obtaining the expert opinion, Defendant took the deposition of one of the treating veterinarians and elicited the admission that the current lameness was more likely than not from the same problems exhibited on the track and not the result of the escape injuries.  Defendant then obtained affidavits from Plaintiff's two other treating veterinarians, who also opined consistently, that the cause of the lameness was due to the pre-existing right front lameness, not as a result of the escape.  The treating veterinarians further opined that they agreed with the opinion of Defendant's independent expert veterinarian.  

Defendant moved for summary judgment, citing to the testimony of all three of Plaintiff's treating veterinarians and Defendant's independent expert veterinarian.  Defendant argued that all of the medical evidence showed that Traffic Secretary's escape from the pasture was unrelated to his current lameness.  Plaintiff, in his response, attempted to argue that the medical evidence was irrelevant and that a trial should proceed on grounds of res ipsa loquitur.  The trial court disagreed and provided Plaintiff with more time to submit an affidavit from an expert.  Plaintiff struggled to find an expert veterinarian to testify against the collective opinions of the veterinarians.  Instead, Plaintiff submitted an affidavit from an expert that was a conformation specialist who was certainly well qualified in her field of conformation, but was not a veterinarian.  Defendant argued that Plaintiff's expert was not qualified to provide medical testimony on lameness.  The trial court agreed and granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment, finding that that the Plaintiff had failed to offer any medical evidence that the Defendant's employee's actions caused the lameness.  More importantly, the trial court found that the conformation specialist was not qualified to issue an opinion on medical evidence as she had no "lameness training" or veterinary training.

The Plaintiff appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and the decision was reversed[1].  The appellate court found that the Plaintiff's expert was an "expert" within the meaning of the word.  Defendant filed certiorari and appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.  The Minnesota Supreme Court agreed with the trial court, citing that under Minnesota Rule Evidence 702, an expert can be qualified by "knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education."  578 N.W.2d 757, 761 (Minn. 1998).  It continued that "the knowledge requirement may be satisfied by either formal education or sufficient occupational experience."  Id.  When reviewing the qualifications of the Plaintiff's expert, the court ruled that although the conformation expert had a great deal of experience with horses, she was not an expert in equine lameness because she lacked special training or experience in that area.  Id. at 762-63.  Equine lameness is a subject that is not familiar to the average person, and for that reason, expert evidence is required for the Plaintiff to prevail.  Therefore, the supreme court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and affirmed the judgment of the trial court that the Defendant was not liable for the horse's current lameness.  Id. at 762.

[1] Gross v. Victoria Station, No. C4-97-477, 1997 WL 471388 (Minn. Ct. App. Aug. 19, 1997).
Gross v. Victoria Station Photo