New Hampshire District Court Permits Parties’ Experts to Testify in Case Involving Allegation that a Recalled Grill Caused a Fire

The District Court for the District of New Hampshire recently denied motions to exclude the testimony of both the plaintiff homeowner and defendant grill manufacturer’s experts regarding the origin and cause of a fire. In Pukt v. Nexgrill Industries, Inc. (2016 U.S. Dist. Lexis 54108), the homeowner’s son cooked on a 7-year-old “Charmglow” grill and, as soon as he was through, the grill caught fire and subsequently ignited the deck it was situated on and adjoining house causing extensive damage. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a safety recall for the incident model grill model several years before the fire stating that the hose connecting the propane tank to grill may run too close to the firebox resulting in increased heat, damage to the hose and a subsequent fire or explosion due to a gas leak.

Nexgrill moved to exclude to the opinions of the plaintiff’s two experts that the fire was caused by the defect identified in the CPSC recall. In support, Nexgrill argued that the opinions were based on speculation and lacked factual foundation as the experts did not physically test the incident grill, study an exemplar unit or examine the hose component at issue and that their opinions were contrary to the physical evidence. Further, Nexgrill argued that the opinions were irrelevant as the plaintiff’s experts considered a different model grill which was the subject of a separate case in reaching their conclusions.

In denying the motion, the district court noted that the plaintiff’s experts followed the procedure of NFPA 921, which Nexgrill agreed was the appropriate method for investigating the origin and cause of the fire. As such, the court found that Nexgrill merely raised factual issues regarding the reliability of the opinions which could be scrutinized for credibility during cross examination. In addition, the district court stated that the experts’ “brief consideration” of a different model grill manufactured by Nexgrill did not make their opinions irrelevant.

The plaintiff also filed a motion to exclude the opinions of Nexgrill’s two experts that the cause of the fire could not be determined. Specifically, the plaintiff argued that the opinions of the defendant’s experts were unreliable in that their testimony was contradictory, because one expert altered his opinion during his deposition and also due to the fact that neither expert considered CPSC recall documents addressing other Nexgrill fires that were produced by the plaintiff during discovery.

The district court denied the plaintiff’s motion stating that discrepancies and contradictions within and between experts’ opinions provide fertile grounds for cross-examination and that such issues do not undermine an expert’s methodologies in reaching an opinion. The court further found that the defendant’s experts followed NFPA 921 in investigating this fire as they provided facts and data, which they relied on, to support their opinions that the cause of the fire was undetermined. As such, the experts’ failure to consider information about other Nexgrill fires did not require that the opinions be excluded due to a lack of reliability.


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