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

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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 apartment that killed his mother and caused him, then age 11, to sustain severe injuries. The plaintiff’s suit alleged that an ionization smoke alarm (Model No. 916) manufactured by Kidde and present in the apartment at the time of the fire malfunctioned, denying plaintiff and his ...
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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 (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 ...
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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 and its power source ignited organic material inside the ACU causing the fire. The ACU was mounted outside and adjacent to the Howards’ residence. CIC alleged that “the ACU was manufactured, designed, and/or labeled in an unsafe, defective, and inherently dangerous condition” in asserting claims for ...
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Michigan Court Denies Motion to Exclude Expert Testimony on “Clinkers”

iStock_000009454015_Large 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 ...
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The Importance of the Product Defense Attorney at the Fire Scene: Part Two

iStock_000018723000_Large Part 2: Attendance at the Fire Scene – Information Gathering and Initial Investigation The attendance of a product defense attorney at the fire scene can greatly assist in the defense of a fire loss. Of course, that benefit is only fully realized when an attorney is sufficiently prepared and takes a proactive role when at the scene. If a client chooses to send an attorney to a fire scene, the attorney should make the most of that opportunity and gather as much information as possible to assist in the case. This series of blog posts will expound on the importance of preparation prior to a scene exam, attendance at the scene exam, and post scene exam activities. The time has come for the scene exam. In accordance to the last ...
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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 that shoddy electrical work was the cause of the fire. In control of the scene, they then allowed the remains of the house to be demolished pursuant to standard industry practice. The problem for their claim arose when it was established that they never provided ...
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District Court Allows Testimony Despite Experts’ Failure to Adhere to NFPA921

iStock_000001627771_Large The Eastern District of Washington recently denied a defendant manufacturer’s attempt to exclude the testimony of two experts regarding fire origin and cause. In case No. 13-CV-0328-TOR, an insurer sued the defendant manufacturer alleging that inspections of the fire scene and evidence confirmed that a printer caused a residential fire. The defendants’ experts disagreed and attributed the cause of the fire to a failure in the home’s lighting system. In support of their opinions, the plaintiff’s experts cited a 2011 article suggesting that printers are susceptible to being “hacked” and starting fires and further opined that they could not rule out a fuse in the incident printer’s power supply as an ignition source given the significant damage to its electrical components. The defendant argued that the opinions of the plaintiff’s ...
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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 in two distinct first floor locations due to the severity of damage in those areas. He also testified that the room’s baseboards had burned to the ground and that there was a puddle shape left in the area, both indicating to him that an accelerant ...
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It’s the Expertise, Not the Title

iStock_000044157922_Full 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 vehicle was maintained in accordance with BMW’s standards, had been driven regularly and was stored in a location where it was protected from accumulating debris. BMW moved for summary judgment, seeking, inter alia, to have the testimony of The plaintiff’s expert stricken on the grounds ...
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District Court Allows Expert’s Testimony in Fire Case Despite His Lack of Testing and a Definitive Theory

iStock_000058508316_XXXLarge The Eastern District of Pennsylvania recently addressed the reliability of an expert’s opinion regarding whether an exterior lighting device caused a fire and subsequent damage to the plaintiff’s home. In the subject case (Case No. 12-3568), the plaintiff filed suit against the manufacturer of the lighting device and one of its component parts alleging that a manufacturing defect in the device caused the fire. In support, the plaintiff proffered the testimony of an engineering expert who opined the fire was caused by one of three different theories: (1) an inherent defect of the terminal components; (2) a loose or improper connection; or (3) an overload of the component parts. Significantly, the expert stated that he could not confirm a specific causal defect because the lighting device was too badly damaged. ...
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