Fire Expert Witness Testimony Allowed

Plaintiff filed suit against the defendant related to a fire that broke out in a vacant vacation home.  Plaintiff hired a Fire Expert Witness to provide testimony.  Defendant filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.  The court denied the motion to exclude.

Facts: This case (State Farm Fire & Casualty Company v. IDC Management Company – United States District Court – Middle District of Pennsylvania – October 25th, 2019) involves a claim of property damage which arose from a fire in June 2017 that happened in a vacant vacation home in Pennsylvania.  The fire allegedly happened after the house had been cleaned. The plaintiff has hired Robert Buckley (Fire Expert Witness) to provide expert testimony.  The defendant has filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.

Discussion:  The defendant argues that Robert Buckley’s testimony that the fire was caused by an employee of the defendant disposing smoking material into mulch underneath the front porch of the building is speculative and should be excluded.  The defendant argues that Buckley bases his opinion on unsupported speculation.  The defendant grounds its argument on the fact that there are alternative possibilities as to the cause of the fire.  The defendant notes that Buckley can’t eliminate neighborhood fireworks, debris blown from a nearby fire, or smoking materials from someone else walking near the property as possible causes of the fire.

The defendant claims that Buckley “has no idea what happened” at the house during the four hour window between when the defendant finished cleaning and when the fire occurred.  The defendant also states that Buckley’s inability to eliminate alternative possibilities of the fire means that his opinion is speculation and conjecture.

The court opines that, considering the methods that Buckley used in developing his opinion as to the cause of the fire, he had good grounds for his belief and does not turn to speculation and conjecture.  The court notes that Buckley is able to identify the first fuel ignited and has enough evidence to support his theory that an employee of the defendant started the fire.

The court notes that Buckley uses physical evidence and logical reasoning to come up with a theory as to the cause of the fire.  The court notes that he also employs circumstantial evidence, and employs logical reasoning.  In addition, he connects the physical evidence and the circumstantial evidence to come up with “the most probable cause.”

In addition, the court notes that Buckley also addressed alternative causes, in which he gave an explanation in ruling out these alternative causes.

Also, the court opines that Buckley’s testimony is helpful to the jury in determining the cause of the fire.  Last the court notes that it is up to the jury to determine the weight and credibility of Buckley’s testimony.

Conclusion: The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Robert Buckley is denied.