Admiralty & Maritime Expert Witness Exclusion Affirmed on Appeal

Appellants sued the manufacturer of a boat after the vessel caught fire.  Appellants hired three experts, one of which was an Admiralty & Maritime Expert Witness.  The district court excluded this experts testimony and the circuit court affirmed the opinion.

Facts:  This case (Atlantic Specialty Insurance, et al v. Porter, Incorporated – United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit – August 7th, 2018), involves an appeal from a district court opinion.  The claim involves a fire onboard the Budget Bender yacht owned by Appellant Gonzalez and insured by Appellant Atlantic Specialty Insurance Company.  The appellants sued the manufacturer of the boat, Porter, Inc alleging claims of redhibition and the Louisiana Products Liability Act.  Specifically, they allege that the yacht contained a defect that allowed the water to from the wet bar area into a bundle of wires, which caused corrosion, and eventually, a fire.  Porter claims that the cause of the fire is not determined.  The appellants hired three experts, one of which was Admiralty & Maritime Expert Witness Guy Plaisance. Porter filed a motion to exclude the expert witnesses, including Plainsance, and the district court granted the motion on two experts, including Plaisance.  The appellants appeal these opinions.

Discussion: Guy Plaisance inspected the yacht twice in the month after the fire.  After that, he returned to perform a “hose test”.  He directed water from a garden hose onto the wet bar and tracked where the water ended up.  In addition, he repeated the experiment on another vessel manufactured by Porter that had a similar configuration.  The tests revealed, according to Plaisance, that the water would drip into the wiring harnesses directly below.  The water intrusion, claimed Plaisance, was a result of a defective design by Porter, and that it was this defect that caused the fire.

The district court opined that the “hose tests” were were intended to recreate the event that caused the fire.  In doing so, the appellants needed to show that the experiment was substantially similar to the way Gonzalez used and maintained the boat prior to the fire.  The district court opined that they did not meet that burden.  The court stated that Plainance’s videos did not contain information on how he conducted the experiment.  In addition, he didn’t provide information on how Gonzalez typically washed the boat.  Thus, the district court ruled that Plaisance could not make a fair comparison between the test videos and the conditions that actually led to the fire.

The appellants appeal this opinion.  They only insist that the hose test videos were not intended as a simulation or re-enactment.  Thus, they argue, the substantially similarity requirement should not apply.  The court affirmed the district court opinion by stating that the hose test was intended as a re-enactment.  Thus, because Plaisance’s conclusions were based on unreliable tests, his opinions should have been excluded.

Conclusion:  The circuit court affirmed the lower court opinion in excluding the expert witness testimony of Guy Plaisance