Category Archives: Court Decision

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

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…

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Subrogation Claim Demolished Along with the Evidence

When a fire consumed the majority of a Maryland home in 2013, the fire department investigation, consisting of inspection of the damage and witness statements, pointed readily towards faulty wiring in the electric meter box. The insurer of the house, whose expert was among those concluding the origin of the fire was the electric box,  received an estimate for the damage and quickly cut a check to the homeowner. They then pursued a subrogation claim against the power company responsible for the electric box, alleging…

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Advances in Fire Science Helps Overturn 1980 Arson and Murder Convictions

A New York Judge recently overturned the arson and felony murder convictions of three men accused of setting a February 7, 1980 fire in a three-story residential building that killed a woman and her five children. The three men were convicted after the building’s owner offered eyewitness testimony implicating them and a local fire marshal presented an analysis at trial that pointed to arson as the cause of the fire. Significantly, the fire marshal supported his fire cause opinion with evidence that the fire originated…

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It’s the Expertise, Not the Title

In a recent case, an Ohio resident’s house burned down after she parked her vehicle in an attached garage. The plaintiff filed suit against BMW alleging that a design defect in the vehicle caused the fire. In support, the plaintiff proffered the expert testimony of a mechanic who opined that the vehicle’s design allowed for the buildup of heat between its stiffener plate and exhaust system, the subsequent ignition of adjacent leaves and the fire. The plaintiff further supported its position by alleging that the…

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Mississippi Court Snuffs Out Plaintiffs’ Fading Hopes of Surviving Summary Judgement in Odorant-Fade Case

As experienced fire litigators may know through case experience or study, the tell-tale, cloying ‘rotten egg’ smell signals a gas leak. Propane and natural gas are naturally colorless, odorless and tasteless, which is why federal regulations require natural gas companies to inject ‘odorants’ into gas lines (49 C.F.R. § 192.625(a)). What is perhaps less well-known is the phenomenon called ‘odorant fade,’ which is, as the name suggests, the reduction of concentration of odorant to a level where the gas is no longer detectable by smell.…

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Reliance on Unreliable Opinions Puts Fire Investigators’ Origin Theories on Ice

The Texas Supreme Court recently held that a trial court did not abuse its discretion by disregarding the testimony of two fire investigators who relied on the unreliable opinions of other witnesses to provide a complete factual foundation for their origin theories. In Gharda USA, Inc. et al. v. Control Solutions, Inc. et al., Cause No 12-0987, the plaintiffs filed suit alleging that a chemical manufactured and sold by the defendants contained a manufacturing defect that led to a warehouse fire and over $8…

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In The Eyes Of The Jury: The Power of the Public Official

investigatorsIn catastrophic injury cases, defense counsel are familiar with the first responder investigations conducted by local and state police and fire departments. At times, the opinions and conclusions of the police and fire officials are unfavorable to the defense and attorneys are “stuck” with these opinions throughout the case and must find a way to discount or neutralize these opinions. If their findings align with the defense’s theory, they are a powerful weapon for the defense. A recent case that went to the jury highlighted…

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Area of Origin Alone is Insufficient to Prove a Defect

Breaker panel fire On the night of January 16, 2011, a security guard employed to monitor power service to a subdivision of vacant homes noticed that several homes in the Southbury, Connecticut subdivision had lost power. The subdivision, consisting of five homes that sat vacant since being built in 2005 had been experiencing false fire alarms and power outages. Two hours after the employee alerted his superior of the power outage, it was discovered that one of the homes was on fire. The fire was investigated by representatives…

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Plaintiff’s Defect Theory Up in Smoke? Enter Malfunction Theory

The Connecticut Supreme Court recently made its ruling in White v. Mazda Motor of Am., 313 Conn. 610. In White, the plaintiff asserted design defect claims against Mazda after a car purchased by the plaintiff burst into flames one month later. The plaintiff’s complaint cited a laundry list of various defects which may have caused or contributed to the incident. To support its allegation, the plaintiff retained a certified fire investigator as an expert. The plaintiff’s expert testified that “the fire appears to…

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Court Turns Down The Heat On Requirements For Ignition Scenario Testing

A federal court in Wisconsin recently addressed what constitutes acceptable conditions for ignition scenario testing in fire cases. In Smithfield Foods, Inc. et al. v. United States, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134523 (E.D. Wis., September 23, 2014), the plaintiffs filed suit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act alleging that a pork processing facility was destroyed by a fire ignited by a M125 military flare stolen by a member of the United States Marine Corps. The plaintiffs claimed that the United…

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