Explosions Expert Witness Testimony Partially Allowed

Plaintiff’s explosion and fire investigator expert was allowed to opine on the origin of a fire but not about any defects in the combine equipment.

Facts: The present case (Scottsdale Insurance Company v Deere & Company (United States District Court – District of Kansas – July 14th, 2015) involves a Deere & Company combine that was destroyed by a fire. The combine was insured by the plaintiff. The fire occurred on June 2, 2013, destroying the combine. The plaintiff filed suit against the defendants for breach of implied warranty, breach of express warranty, stating that a defective Emissions Control System (ECS) in the combine caused the fire.

In order to prove its case, the plaintiff hired Raymond Thompson, an explosions and fire investigator expert. The defendants seek to exclude his testimony in that it violates the disclosure requirements of Rule 26. In addition, they state that Thompson’s background do not qualify him to testify on the proposed defects in the ECS.

Discussion: The court stated that Mr. Thompson has the training and expertise to qualifies him to provide expert testimony as to the origin of the combine fire. He has worked at a Volvo dealership as an automotive technician and currently works for an engineering forensic company. In addition, his testimony is proffered on his examination of the combine, a review of photographs as well as discussions with the owners of the machine. These, along with his observation of the patterns of the fire and the damage, are reliable in determining the fire’s origin.

That said, he is not qualified to opine in the complex area of diesel emissions control systems. Even though he worked as an automotive technician, this did not include work on Diesel Particulate Filters or software that is used to run combines. Continuing, the court stressed that Mr. Thompson is not an engineer and that is training as a fire investigator does not deal with engines and emissions management computer systems.

The defendants also filed a Rule 26 motion stating that Mr. Thompson’s report violated disclosure requirements. They purport that Mr. Thompson states that the fire started in a particular section of the combine, but the reasoning was not explained fully. They state that his report does not explain what about his observations led to his conclusion about the origin of the fire.

Further, they state that the report includes only Mr. Thompson’s observations of the fire damage to the combine. His observations are displayed in four bullet points in the report, stating 1) severe fire damage 2) two of the wheels were consumed by the fire and the other were partially consumed, 3) there was heat and fire damage to the engine 4) plastic, aluminum components were melton.

The court agrees with plaintiff in these arguments. In addition, the court notes that Mr. Thompson’s report does not list any authored publications or any other cases in which he testified. Last, his report does not show how much Mr. Thompson was being compensated for his testimony.

Held: Deere & Company’s motion to exclude the testimony of Raymond Thompson was granted in part and denied in part. In addition, his testimony does not satisfy the disclosure requirements of Rule 26

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