Fire Expert and Mechanical Engineering Expert Witness Not Allowed

Plaintiffs sued defendant after an alleged design defect in a water heater caused a fire and destroyed their home.  Plaintiff hired a Fire Expert Witness and Mechanical Engineering Expert Witness to provide testimony.  The defendant filed a motion to exclude both witnesses, which was granted by the court.

Facts:  This case (Howard et al v. Bosch Thermotechnology Corp. – United States District Court – Eastern District of Missouri – May 4th, 2018) involves a claim of products liability.  The plaintiffs allege that a defective design of a water heater sold and manufactured by the defendant caused a fire that destroyed their home.  The plaintiffs hired two expert witnesses to assist in their case: James Doyle (Fire Expert Witness) and Dr. Kelly Homan (Mechanical Engineering Expert Witness).  Both filed reports with the court and the defendant filed a motion to exclude the testimony from these experts.

Discussion: The defendant argues that Mr. Doyle’s expert opinion is not reliable and should be excluded.  Mr. Doyle opined that the water heater overheated and caused the fire.  The court stated that he is not proficient in how these specific types of water heaters work.  Therefore, he doesn’t have any expertise or any other basis upon which to form an opinion and come to a conclusion on how the water heater performed and will not be helpful to a jury.

The court also ruled that even if it was assumed that he would qualify as an expert in this case, he did not base his causation opinion on enough facts or that he applied generally accepted methods to his conclusions.  For example, the court continued, Mr. Doyle testified that he applied the NFPA 921 method of fire causation, which is approved method, but he did not apply it reliably.  Mr. Doyle did not conduct any tests, and his fire investigation report contains contradictions.  In addition, there was no peer-review in the case, Mr. Doyle stating that he formed his hypothesis and then spoke to his colleagues about his findings.  Thus, the expert witness testimony of Mr. Doyle will be excluded.

Dr. Horman reviewed Mr. Doyle’s report, examined the water heater, and searched the Internet for similar incidents of fire, but he did not conduct any tests.  Dr. Horman admitted that he does not have any experience as a fire investigator nor one that would have knowledge of causes of fires.  In addition, he stated that he based his opinion on Doyle’s conclusion.  Thus, because Doyle’s expert testimony was excluded, Dr. Horman’s should be as well.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of James Doyle and Dr. Kelly Homan is granted.