Author Archives: Ryan M. Frierott

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Eastern District of Pennsylvania Excludes Portion of Electrical Engineering Expert’s Fire Causation Opinion

On May 18, 2017, the United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, ruled that a plaintiff’s electrical engineering expert could not testify regarding the origin of a fire and further excluded a portion of his testimony regarding fire cause. In State Farm Fire & Casualty Company v. Hartman Contractors, et al., 2017 WL 2180292 (E.D. Pa. May 18, 2017), the defendant contractor installed framing and drywall to finish the basement of a newly constructed townhouse in Phoenixville, PA. Approximately eight years after this…

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Fifth Circuit Affirms District Court’s Exclusion of Opinions of Plaintiffs’ Expert Engineers Regarding Cause of Vehicle Fire and Defective Design of Fuel Tank

On October 5, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that opinions of the plaintiffs’ expert engineers regarding the cause of a vehicle fire and the defective design of the vehicle’s fuel tank were properly excluded. In Sims v. Kia Motors of Am., 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 18116 (5th Cir. Tex. Oct. 5, 2016), Henry Sims, Sr. was a passenger in the backseat of a 2010 Kia Soul when it collided with another car in an intersection, spun out and…

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Environmental Group Files Federal Lawsuit Seeking Invalidation of Emergency Firefighting Regulation and Review of U.S. Forest Service’s Firefighting Tactics After Agency Destroys Critical Wildlife Habitat to Fight Forest Fire

Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE) recently filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Washington against the U.S. Forest Service in response to the agency’s decision to cut 114 acres of timber and critical spotted owl habitat to fight a forest fire that ignited on June 29, 2015 in North Central Washington. Significantly, the fire never came close to the area cut by the Forest Service. In Case No. 2:16-cv-00293-TOR, FSEEE seeks to rescind a 2008 regulation invoked by the Forest Service while…

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District Court in South Carolina Allows Parties’ Experts to Testify in Design Defect Case Involving Heater’s Ignition of Woman’s Clothing

On August 10, 2016, the District Court for the District of South Carolina ruled that experts retained by a woman who suffered severe burns after a propane heater ignited her clothing could testify under Federal Rule of Evidence 702, Federal Rule of Evidence 403 and the Daubert standard regarding the origin and cause of the fire, the defectiveness of the heater’s design, and how an alternative design would have prevented the incident. Likewise, the district court ruled that an expert retained by the defendant manufacturer…

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Cook County Prosecutors Agree Chicago Man Convicted of Arson in 1996 Should Get New Trial Due to Evolution in Fire Science

Two decades after Adam Gray was convicted of setting a fire that killed two people in Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood, Cook County prosecutors agree that he deserves a new trial because advancements in fire science have “partially invalidated” expert testimony crucial to his conviction. In Gray’s case, police and prosecutors alleged that in March of 1993 the then 14 year-old became angry with a girl who rejected him and retaliated by igniting an accelerant he poured on the back porch of the home where she…

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Fire Chief’s Testimony Ruled Admissible in Arson Case Despite Concession He’s Unqualified to Determine Cause of All Fires

A defendant sought to have his arson conviction overturned, arguing that the justice presiding at his trial committed a reversible error in permitting one of the state’s witnesses to give opinion testimony. In State v. Barnett (Case No. 1984 Me. LEXIS 784), the defendant claimed that a fire chief from the responding fire department should not have been permitted to testify that, while investigating the origin of a fire at the defendant’s home, he called in the state fire marshal’s office to assist because he…

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District Court Allows Expert Testimony Attributing Cause of a House Fire to Careless Smoking

On May 20, 2016, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled that an insurer’s fire expert could testify regarding a tenant’s smoking being the cause of a residential fire under Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and the Daubert standard. In Allstate Ins. Co. v. Anderson, No. 15-2651, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 66481 (E.D. Pa. May 20, 2016), the defendant tenant stated that he smoked a cigarette in the basement bedroom of a residence insured by Allstate and placed it in a can on a table…

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$150M Verdict against Jeep Manufacturer — Cut to $40M — Heads to the Georgia Court of Appeals

In Fiat Chrysler Automobiles v. Walden, No. A16A1285, Fiat Chrysler is appealing the trial court’s final judgment on liability and damages in a case involving a high-speed rear-end collision that punctured the gas tank of a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee, causing it to explode. At trial, the family of a 4-year-old boy killed in the crash argued that the design of the jeep was defective and dangerous in that its gas tank was located in the crush-zone between the rear bumper and axle. The…

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Verdict in Favor of Defendant Fire-Suppression System Manufacturer in Yacht Fire Case Affirmed

On May 26, 2016, the Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit affirmed a jury verdict in favor of the defendant in a products liability suit involving a 2011 fire that started in the engine room of a 67-foot wooden yacht. In Sudderth v. Mariner Elec. Co., 16-5 ( La. App. 5 Cir 05/26/16) the plaintiff filed suit against the manufacturer of an automatic fire-suppression system alleging that the system was defective, unreasonably dangerous in design, construction, and did not perform as advertised.…

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Eleventh Circuit Reverses Summary Judgment on Bad-Faith Claim Finding Sufficient Evidence to Demonstrate Insurance Company Should Have Known Experts’ Fire Cause Opinions Were Unreliable

On February 29, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed a district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of an insurance company on a yacht owner’s bad-faith claim. In Atl. Specialty Ins. Co. v. Mr. Charlie Adventures, LLC, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 3619 (11th Cir. Ala. Feb. 29, 2016), a 40-foot yacht named “Mr. Charlie” was completely destroyed by a fire that started in its engine room. The owner filed a claim with Atlantic Specialty Insurance Company as it…

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