Fire Expert Witness Allowed in Part

Plaintiff insurance company filed a declaratory judgment action against homeowners related to a fire.  Plaintiff hired Fire Expert Witness to provide expert witness testimony.  Defendant filed a motion to exclude this testimony.  The court granted the motion in part and denied it in part.

Facts:  This case (American Modern Home Insurance Company v. Thomas et al – United States District Court – Eastern District of Missouri – September 17th, 2018) involves an insurance claim for a fire that occurred at the home of the defendants.  The plaintiff brought this declaratory judgment action against the homeowners seeking a declaration that there is is not coverage under the policy.  The defendants filed a counterclaim, stating that they are entitled to recover under the policy.  The plaintiff has hired Dan Bruno (Fire Expert Witness) to provide expert witness testimony on their behalf.  The defendants have filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.

Discussion:  Bruno is the fire marshal who responded to the fire and conducted the investigation.  His investigation included taking photographs, making diagrams, and moving debris to observe burn and char patterns.  He also interviewed the defendants, received statements from friends, researched their litigation history, spoke to the defendants insurance adjuster, and conducted numerous interviews.

His conclusion was that the fire was intentionally set and based his conclusions on numerous factors. He opined that he saw a liquid pour pattern on the floor from the kitchen to the dining room.  He also based his conclusions on the extent of the fire damage considering the time that elapsed between the 911 call and the fire suppression, and the Thomases’ demeanor and statements.

The defendants allege that the methodology used by Bruno to decide the cause is not consistent with NFPA 921.  NFPA 921 requires that hypotheses of the origins of the a fire should be carefully examined against data retrieved from the scene of the fire.  Bruno does not claim that he followed NFPA 921 in his investigation of the fire, thus that cannot serve as a basis for exclusion.  The issue, the court opines, is whether his methodology is reliable.

The court must then determine whether or not the methods used by the expert is reliable, and the court opines that Bruno’s testimony is indeed reliable.  The court continues by stating that Bruno gathered evidence, formed hypotheses as to the possible origin and cause of the fire, evaluated t he evidence against these hypotheses, and reached his conclusions based on specific observations of the evidence in the case.  Thus, the court opines that Bruno’s testimony passes the reliability test.

The court however, opines that it will exclude any opinions on the meaning of a person’s emotional responses, motivations, or veracity.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Dan Bruno is granted in part and denied in part.