Electrical Engineering Expert Witness Testimony Allowed in Aquarium Fire Litigation

Summary:  Electrical Engineering Expert Witness allowed to testify even though the defendant argued that his testimony was speculation because he did not perform tests on the aquarium motor, which he alleges caused the fire.

Facts:  This case (Scicchitano Smith et al v. SPECTRUM BRANDS, INC. et al – United States District Court – Eastern District of Pennsylvania – August 10, 2022) involves a negligence claim.  The plaintiffs, Jeanette Scicchitano Smith and Alexander Smith, sued Spectrum Brands, alleging that an aquarium kit, purchased from the defendant, was defective and caused a fire in their home.  To assist in their case, the Smiths hired Electrical Engineering Expert Witness Christoph Flaherty to provide expert witness testimony.  The defendant filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.

Discussion:  Spectrum Brands does not question the qualifications of Flaherty in the present case. The court notes that Flaherty is qualified to opine due to his work history, education and training.  Also, the defendant does not question the “fit” of Flaherty’s testimony and the court states that his testimony would clearly assist the trier of fact.  The court states that his testimony would definitely assist the trier of fact in this case.

The defendant claims that Falherty’s expert witness opinions are speculation because he did not perform any physical tests on this motor with or without the thermal protection device he states should have been included.  In addition, the defendant argues that Flaherty did not conduct a literature search on the issue at hand.  In addition, Spectrum Brands alleges that Flaherty did not rule out any potential alternatives to the cause of the fire.

The court states that Flaherty read the fire marshal’s report of the fire, viewed over 380 pictures of the motor, tank, and fire, as well as design drawings furnished by Spectrum Brands.   The court opines that Flaherty used a scientific method to define the problem, formulate a hypothesis, and test his hypothesis.   In addition, the court notes that Flaherty could not have tested the motor, but did perform cognitive testing conforming to the scientific method that he used.  The court also states that the defendant’s argument that Flaherty’s testimony should be excluded because he did not test the motor is unmerited.

The court also notes that Flaherty also ruled out alternative causes of the fire and that his opinions conform to national standards.  Last, the court opines that it is up to the jury as to whether Flaherty is a credible witness.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Christoph Flaherty is denied.