Electrical Engineering Expert Witness Testimony Not Allowed

Plaintiff sued defendant to recover insurance payment made after a house fire.  Plaintiff alleged that defendant was negligent in installing an electric “smart” meter, which they say caused the fire.  The plaintiff hired an electrical engineering expert witness to provide testimony and the defendant filed a motion to exclude the testimony.  The court granted the motion.

Facts:  This case (American Strategic Insurance Corp. v. Potomac Electric Power Company – United States District Court – District of Maryland – September 15th, 2017) involves property damage due to a fire. In January 2013, Scope Services (Scope) replaced a residential meter at a residence in Germantown Maryland.  In March 2013 a fire began in the home caused extensive damage.  After the owner of the townhouse received an insurance payment, the plaintiff (ASIC) filed suit against Scope Services alleging that their professional negligence was the direct cause of the March fire.  The plaintiff hired Ronald J. Panunto (Electrical Engineering Expert Witness) to provide testimony in this case.  The defendant filed a motion to exclude this expert witness testimony.

Discussion: The defendant alleges that Mr. Panunto’s testimony should be excluded because he does not have specific experience in the area of installing electric “smart” meters and that his testimony does not properly establish the standard of care put forth by the industry.  The defendant argues that Mr. Panunto’s testimony passes muster under Rule 702.

The court ruled that Mr. Panunto is qualified to testify as an expert witness in this case.  Although he did concede that that he does not have specific experience or training in the installation of electric “smart” meters, Mr. Panunto does have over fifty years experience in the field of electrical engineering, which includes sixteen years in forensic analysis for failed electrical equipment.  In addition, he has installed and overseen electrical systems, including those in residential homes.  Also, he is a certified forensic professional engineer and trained in Kepner-Tregoe and Root-Cause Analysis of failed electrical equipment and systems.  Thus, the court ruled that this part of the motion to exclude Mr. Panunto’s testimony is denied.

The defendant further argues that Mr. Panunto does not establish the industry standard of care.  In his deposition, Mr. Panunto offered a six part standard of care for the proper installation of electric “smart” meters, which was broken down by the court into two categories:  1) the preparation and tools necessary for proper installation and 2) the meter installation process itself.

At his deposition, Mr. Panunto was asked repeatedly to provide a factual basis for his claims that the six steps he outlines were the accepted standard in the industry for meter installation and was unable to do so.  The court additionally concluded that Mr. Panunto’s testimony on standard of care is little more than he personal views on installing an electric “smart” meter.  Also, during his testimony, he claimed ignorance of industry practice  or denied that his procedure was used in the field.  Thus, the court ruled that this part of the motion to exclude should be granted.

Conclusion:  The defendant’s motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Mr. Ronald J. Panunto was granted.