Michigan Court Denies Motion to Exclude Expert Testimony on “Clinkers”

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The Michigan Court of Appeals recently denied a defendant’s motion in limine to exclude expert testimony regarding “clinkers,” which is a mass of organic material produced in a hay or straw fire. In case No. 324075, it was undisputed that a fire began in a storage barn containing approximately 46 large bales of straw supplied by the defendant. The plaintiff alleged that the straw bales were defective in that they spontaneously combusted and ignited the fire causing property damage.

The plaintiff’s experts opined that the presence of “clinkers” in the barn after the fire was indicative of a spontaneous combustion event. The defendant sought to exclude the proffered testimony as unreliable. In support, the defendant argued that the literature relied on by the plaintiff’s experts merely established that the presence of clinkers could result from the spontaneous combustion of the straw. The defendant also noted that the plaintiff’s experts admitted that the presence of clinkers was not conclusive evidence of spontaneous combustion.

The court of appeals denied the motion in limine and ruled that the testimony should to be presented to the jury. The court noted that although the existence of a clinker does not conclusively show the fire was caused by spontaneous combustion, clinkers are often linked to a spontaneous combustion event. Further, the distinction of what a clinker may or may not be indicative of is an issue that can be explained to the jury through questioning and argument.

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