Ohio Appellate Court Refuses to Extinguish Proximate Causation Opinion

Fire alarm sensor

An Ohio Appellate Court recently evaluated the ability of experts to determine the proximate cause of damages resulting from the failure of a fire detection system to timely detect a fire. In the subject case (Case No. L-12-1358), the plaintiff’s car dealership was destroyed by a fire. Although the defendant’s detection system alerted authorities of the fire, the plaintiff filed suit alleging that the system was negligently installed resulting in delayed detection and increased damages to the structure.

In support of its position, the plaintiff proffered expert testimony that if the system’s heat detectors were installed on the ceiling of the structure, rather than the bottom of trusses, it would have detected the fire earlier resulting in less damage to the structure. The defendant challenged this testimony, arguing that the there was no evidence to support a finding that the system was the proximate cause of any property damage because the experts were unable to determine the amount of time the system failed to detect the fire.

In permitting the expert testimony, the appellate count held that although the experts were unable to quantify the precise delay in detection and corresponding damages, there was sufficient evidence to support their opinions. In that regard, the appellate court stated that the testimony of the individual who installed the detectors regarding placement was sufficient for the experts to rely upon.  Moreover, the plaintiff provided additional testimony to support its damage claim.

The appellate court’s ruling demonstrates that a fire expert’s testimony may not have to address the specific amount of damages in a delayed detection case. While attorneys must attack an expert opinion that relies on conjecture, they must also be cautious when there is other testimony in the case supporting the opinion.

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