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Lasorsa v. Showboat: The Mardi Gras Casino

September 9, 2009

CYNTHIA LASORSA AND FRANK LASORSA, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SHOWBOAT: THE MARDI GRAS CASINO AND HARRAH'S ENTERTAINMENT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge

OPINION

This matter is presently before the Court on the motion of Defendants Showboat: The Mardi Gras Casino and Harrah's Entertainment to preclude the testimony of Plaintiffs Cynthia and Frank Lasorsa's proposed expert Jeffrey Leif [Docket Item 33]. Plaintiffs offer Mr. Leif's testimony in this negligence action to support their claim that Defendants breached their duty to Mrs. Lasorsa when they allowed a wheelchair to remain partially under a table in their restaurant so that Mrs. Lasorsa tripped over that chair and injured herself. Defendants argue that Mr. Leif is not qualified to offer an expert opinion in this area and further that his opinion is unreliable, so his testimony should be precluded. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion and preclude Mr. Leif's proffered testimony.

I. BACKGROUND

A. The Accident

This action arose from an accident at the Pelican Club within the Showboat Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. On January 28, 2006, at approximately 5:45 p.m., Mrs. Lasorsa tripped on a wheelchair and fell to the ground. Plaintiffs maintain that Defendants negligently permitted the wheelchair to remain in the aisle and walking pathway at the Pelican Club and that their negligence led to Mrs. Lasorsa's fall and subsequent injury to her left elbow, which required surgery.

B. Mr. Leif's Qualifications and Report

Since 1962, Mr. Leif has worked within the food services industry. (Leif Resume.) For five years he was Regional Vice President for a steak and salad bar theme restaurant, followed by positions as a field supervisor for food services, general manager in a national restaurant and food service chain (at Rockefeller Center Restaurants and Lincoln Center, among other locations), and general manager at a private club in New York City. (Id.) He is presently an independent consultant, broker, and food sales representative -- a position he has held since 1997. (Id.) He has consulted for Princeton University, LifeThyme Food Market, Peltz & Walker, The River City Brewing Company, the Helen Hayes Performing Arts Center, and 3 Clock Inn Restaurant. (Id.) It appears that no court has ever held Mr. Leif to be an expert for any purpose. There is similarly no evidence that Mr. Leif has any particular expertise in restaurant safety, whether by specified training or education.

In response to Plaintiffs' request, Mr. Leif prepared a report expressing his views of the conduct of Defendants surrounding Mrs. Lasorsa's accident. A copy of Mr. Leif's report is attached hereto as Appendix A. To come to his opinions Mr. Leif reviewed: (1) the deposition transcripts of four Showboat employees; (2) the deposition transcripts of Cynthia and Frank Lasorsa; (3) Mrs. Lasorsa's notes of the accident; (4) the Showboat Encounter Form and Incident Report for the accident; and (5) a diagram of the layout of the Pelican Club provided by Showboat, along with employee rosters, details of covers and seating for the day of the accident. (Leif Report at 1.)

Mr. Leif begins his report by summarizing the deposition testimony of various witnesses, highlighting testimony indicating that Showboat did not have a formal policy for storing the wheelchairs of handicapped customers. (Id. at 1-2.) Mr. Leif then presents a question to be answered:

Did The Showboat Casino's Diamond Club*fn1 have the general welfare taking [sic] reasonable precautions to meet the standard of care to protect its patrons, including Cynthia Lasorsa from being of risk, [sic] tripping and falling over a wheelchair in the aisle next to her table [on] Saturday, January 28, 2006[?]

(Id. at 2.) Mr. Leif responds in the negative, and elaborates on his opinion as follows:

It is my opinion within a reasonable degree of certainty in my field of expertise, restaurant/catering owner and hands on manager, [that] the defendant did not prioritize the safety of the patrons. Showboat Casino's Diamond Club's concern [sic] and lack of awareness [given] its many years of operating a Buffet Dinning [sic] Room, demonstrates a below industry standards an[d]/or below the standard of care of a reasonable [person] operating [a] buffet dinning [sic] room.

(Id. at 3.) Mr. Leif then provides four bases for his ultimate opinion: (1) Showboat did not have a written policy regarding the placement of wheelchairs; (2) Based on their "practical experience," Showboat managers should have been aware of the risk and told guests who left their wheelchairs that those chairs would be stored in a separate, designated storage area; (3) "The aisle between tables was not a practical area to store a wheelchair;" and (4) "Being responsible ...


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