Category Archives: Court Decision

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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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New Jersey Superior Court Rules the Nose is Not Enough for Arson Conviction

On July 11, 2016, the Superior Court of New Jersey reversed the conviction of an alleged arsonist, vacated her sentence, and remanded the case for a new trial. State v. Satoris, No. A-1079-13T1, 2016 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1605 (Super. Ct. App. Div. July 11, 2016). In 2013, defendant Cheryl Satoris was convicted of third-degree arson. She appealed the conviction, arguing that she was entitled to a new trial because the trial court erroneously permitted the state to introduce evidence concerning a canine’s detection…

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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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West Virginia Court Denies Petitioner’s Attempt to Use Advances in Fire Science and NFPA 921 to Obtain a New Trial After Murder Conviction

On June 2, 2016, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia denied a petitioner’s habeas corpus petition challenging his 1995 first degree murder conviction. In Anstey v. Ballard, No. 15-0067, 2016 W. Va. LEXIS 428 (June 2, 2016), the petitioner asserted that he was entitled to a new trial because the advancement in fire science, specifically the application of NFPA 921, during the last 20 years constituted newly-discovered evidence resulting in a fundamental unfairness in his original trial. Evidence from the underlying trial…

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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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District Court Grants Smoke Alarm Manufacturer’s Motion for Summary Judgment Due to Speculative Product Identification Evidence

On April 27, 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted a defendant manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment in a personal injury lawsuit based in products liability. In Paniagua v. Walter Kidde Portable Equip., Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 56154, the plaintiff brought claims of strict products liability, breach of warranty, violations of the New York Uniform Commercial Code, negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and negligent infliction of emotional distress arising out of a 2005 fire in his New York City…

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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…

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Federal Judge Denies Summary Judgment Even When Plaintiff’s Expert Admits He’s Not Offering Opinion that Defect in Product Caused Fire

On February 9, 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana granted summary judgment, in part, to Lennox Industries, Inc. in a subrogation lawsuit based in product liability. In Cincinnati Ins. Co v. Lennox Indus., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15385, a fire occurred at the Howard residence. Repairs in the amount of $408,000 were paid for by the Howards’ insurance company, The Cincinnati Insurance Co. (CIC). CIC then sued Lennox claiming that electrical arcing between an air condensing unit’s (ACU) compressor…

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