Electrical Engineering Expert Witness Allowed

Plaintiffs sued defendants for product liability after a fire broke out in their garage.  Plaintiff hired an Electrical Engineering Expert Witness to provide expert witness testimony.  The court allowed the testimony.

Facts:  This case (Fredric Glassman et al v. Home Depot USA, Inc. et al – United States District Court – Central District of California – July 20th. 2018) involves a claim of strict product liability and negligence against the defendants related to a fire that broke out in the plaintiff’s garage.  The fire started in the morning of January 2015 which resulted in property damage and personal injury.  The plaintiffs filed suit against the defendants, who manufactured the batteries that, the plaintiffs contend, started the blaze.  The plaintiffs hired Electrical Engineering Expert Witness George White to provide causation testimony on their behalf.  The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which included a section arguing for exclusion of White’s testimony.

Discussion:  White has over thirty years of experience as an electrical engineer investigating fires.  He has investigated between 40 and 60 fires involving lithium-ion batteries over the past ten years and is a licensed electrical and mechanical engineer in California.  White performed an arc mapping survey which is a tool documented by the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA).  White initially stated that a Ryobi charger or battery sitting on the charger caused the fire, but when a physical inspection of the battery revealed that it was not manufactured by Ryobi, White conducted additional testing on other battery cells recovered from the scene of the fire.

The defendants do not dispute the methodology employed by White in coming to the conclusion that the Ryobi battery pack caused the fire.  In addition, the defendants do not dispute that the NFPA is an appropriate method to figure out the cause of the fire.

The defendants do argue that White started with a conclusion and catered his investigation to conform to the conclusion.  White did explain his methodology for conducting additional destructive testing on two additional battery packs, which included visual inspection and the use of a CT scan to evaluate the battery packs.  White stated that he attended a seminar on how to analyze CT scans of lithium-ion batteries as well as pointed to several peer-reviewed articles about this method of analysis.

The court rules that White’s expert witness testimony will be admitted, however two issues give the court pause.  First, his decision to conduct further destructive testing came immediately after Ryobi revealed that it did not manufacture the battery initially suspected as the cause of the fire.  Second, in his second CT analysis, White only chose to scan two batteries, both of which were manufactured by Ryobi.  The court opines that Ryobi’s arguments go to the weight of the evidence, not their admissibility.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of George White is denied.