The trial court erred in excluding lay testimony on diminution of value of the insured's property and by requiring expert testimony. Woodrum v. Georgia Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co., 2018 Ga. App. LEXIS 429 (Ga. Ct. App. June 27, 2018).
During a thunderstorm, a large tree fell onto the roof the insured's house, causing significant damage. The damage was reported to their insurer, Georgia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company. When there was disagreement on the amount of the loss, an appraisal was invoked. An award was agreed to and payment was made by Georgia Farm.
The insureds then sued Georgia Farm, seeking compensation for diminution in value. The complaint alleged that the value of the house was diminished by a cracked foundation caused by the falling tree. In support of the claim, the insureds filed the affidavit of George Hall, the contractor who had repaired the house. He opined that the value of the house was diminished by the foundation being cracked. During a deposition, Hall testified that the house had lost 25 percent of its value due to the cracked foundation.
Georgia Farm filed a motion to exclude Hall as an expert witness and a motion for summary judgment. The court entered an order granting the motion to exclude Hall's testimony as an expert. The court also granted the summary judgment motion because there was no other evidence that the diminution in value of the property was not included in the amount of loss determined under the appraisal clause.
On appeal, the appellate court agreed that Hall's testimony as an expert was properly excluded. His estimation of the diminution in value of the property was not based on any market comparisons or related methodology. When asked to explain how he determined the amount of the value diminution, he said that he had made the determination based on his experience. So this portion of the trial court's order was affirmed.
The trail court erred, however, in excluding Hall's testimony as a lay witness. The record demonstrated that Hall had an opportunity to form a reasoned opinion as to the value of the house. In his affidavit, Hall stated that he was a licensed contractor. He was experienced in home building and remodeling. He was familiar with the costs of construction and the valuation of homes based on his professional experience. He had repaired the insureds' home. The house had suffered massive structural damage due to the fallen tree. The crack he observed affected structural integrity of the home because the slab foundation would never be as strong as it was before the crack. Further, such structural damage to a house's foundation caused the loss of value.
This evidence demonstrated that Hall was qualified to give an opinion as a lay witness on the amount that the foundation damage diminished the value of the property. Therefore, the trial court's order excluding Hall's lay witness opinion testimony was reversed. The order granting Georgia Farm's motion for summary judgment was likewise reversed.