Fire Expert Witness Testimony Allowed

Plaintiff hired expert to opine on the cause of a fire in a house leased by defendants.  Defendants filed a motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of the fire expert.  The court ruled in favor of plaintiff.

Facts:  This case (ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY v. ANDERSON et al – United States District Court – Eastern District of Pennsylvania – May 20th, 2016) involves a fire at a residence insured by the plaintiff (Allstate).  The defendants leased the property and were home at the time of the fire.  The investigators on the case determined that the fire originated in the basement used by defendant Patterson, but the cause of the fire was ruled as undetermined.  The plaintiffs hired David B. Kitsch (Fire Expert Witness) to opine as to the cause of the fire.  In his report, Mr. Kitsch contended that the cause of the fire was Patterson’s careless smoking.  Kitsch stated that a cigarette resulted in the ignition of Class A combustibles that were located in the basement.  The defendants filed a motion to exclude this expert testimony.

Discussion: The defendants state that Kitsch did not satisfy Daubert because he failed to 1) use sufficient facts or data to base his opinion 2) base his opinions on reliable methodology, and 3) reliably apply the correct methodology to the facts.

During his investigation as to the cause of the fire, Kitsch relied on numerous materials, such as depositions, fire investigation reports, and fire investigation publications.  He followed the NFPA 21 scientific method, and conducted a scene investigation.   In addition, he measured the basement bedroom, and examined the fire patterns.  He also examined the electrical distribution panel.  Then, he listed potential ignition sources and explained his reasoning for eliminating each possible source except for the cigarettes.

The defendants state that Kitsch failed to: 1) collect data on the hypothesis that a cigarette caused the fire, 2) consider the baseboard heater as a possible ignition cause, and 3) deal with inconsistent data dealing with Patterson’s contention that he was smoking before the fire, but, as Kitsch claims, did not properly dispose of the cigarette.  They claim that much of Kitsch’s testimony is mere speculation.

The court ruled that Kitsch collected sufficient data and that his testimony was reliable and admissible.  Also, the court stated that he used acceptable methodology in determining  that Patterson’s cigarette caused the fire.  In addition, the court ruled that if the defendants had any arguments on the strength or adequacy of Kitsch’s statements, they could do so on cross examination. Also, the court opined that although he failed to perform tests of his proposed ignition scenario, his elimination process as well as Patterson’s statements are enough to support his conclusions.  In addition, the court stated that Kitsch could have conducted more thorough examinations of some of his ignition scenarios, the defendants arguments in this regard go to the weight of the testimony, not its admissibility.

Conclusion:  The expert witness testimony of David B. Kitsch was allowed by the court and any arguments against his report and opinion can be detailed at cross examination.