District Court Allows Testimony Despite Experts’ Failure to Adhere to NFPA921

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The Eastern District of Washington recently denied a defendant manufacturer’s attempt to exclude the testimony of two experts regarding fire origin and cause. In case No. 13-CV-0328-TOR, an insurer sued the defendant manufacturer alleging that inspections of the fire scene and evidence confirmed that a printer caused a residential fire. The defendants’ experts disagreed and attributed the cause of the fire to a failure in the home’s lighting system.

In support of their opinions, the plaintiff’s experts cited a 2011 article suggesting that printers are susceptible to being “hacked” and starting fires and further opined that they could not rule out a fuse in the incident printer’s power supply as an ignition source given the significant damage to its electrical components. The defendant argued that the opinions of the plaintiff’s experts were unreliable as their methodologies deviated from NFPA921 in that the defendant manufacturer was not invited to the examination of the fire scene and plaintiff’s experts failed to retain a fluorescent light assembly, a piece of the home’s lighting system which may have supported the defendant’s causation theory.

In denying the defendant’s motion, the district court noted that although NFPA 921 has been found to be reliable, it is not the only reliable way to investigate a fire. Further, the district court stated that the experts’ decision not to retain the fluorescent light assembly was reasonable because they had ruled out the home’s lighting system as potential fire cause. The court then reasoned that the defendant simply disagreed with the conclusions of the experts rather than the reliability of the testimony. As the district court was not charged with weighing the correctness of proffered testimony, it admitted the testimony of both experts.

 

 


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