Three Experts Allowed in Case Involving Fire Causation

Plaintiff sued defendant for strict products liability and breach of implied warranties for a fire that broke out in plaintiff’s headquarters.  Plaintiff hires three experts to assist in their case and defendant filed motions to exclude these experts.  The court denied the motion.

Facts:  This case (Harris Caprock v. Trippe Manufacturing Company – United States District Court – Southern District of Texas – February 7th, 2017) involves a fire that broke out at Harris’s global head quarters.   A fire investigator concluded that the source of the fire was a Power Supply system manufactured by the defendant (Trippe).  Harris hired three experts to assist in proving their case:  Joseph Ellington (fire expert witness), Kevin R. Davis (electrical engineering expert witness) and Thomas W. Eagar, Sc.D. (mechanical engineering expert witness).  Trippe filed a motion to exclude the testimony of these experts.

Discussion: Trippe argues that Joseph Ellington’s expert testimony should be excluded for two reasons:  1) that Ellington’s opinion that the north cart was the start of the fire is speculative; 2) his opinions are unreliable because he did not comply with standard protocol for fire investigations when he “bagged and tagged” evidence without cause.  The court denied this part of Trippe’s motion by opining that Ellington’s expert opinions are reliable and that he may testify on his opinion as to the point of origin of the fire.  Regarding the evidence that was “bagged & bagged”, the court opined that these arguments go to the weight of the evidence and not their admissibility and Trippe can bring up these issues at cross examination.

Trippe also seeks to exclude the expert witness testimony of Kevin R. Davis as unreliable as they are based on evidence that was “cherry-picked” by Ellington.  The court opined that there is enough support for the reliability that Davis adopted to analyze Ellington’s evidence.  In addition, Davis arrived at his opinions using his own detailed examinations of the scene of the fire.  Trippe also challenges Davis on the origins of the fire.  The court opines that these arguments, again, are best brought up during the trial because they rely on the weight of the evidence and are matters for the fact finder, and are not Daubert-related.  Thus, the court allows the expert witness testimony of Kevin Davis.

Last, Trippe also seeks to exclude the expert testimony of Thomas W. Eagar, Sc.D, a professor of Materials Engineering and Engineering Systems at MIT since 1976. Based on his inspections of the items that Ellington segregated at the time of the fire, as well as other evidence, as well as his own experience, Eager formed numerous rebuttal opinions responding to Trippe’s expert reports.  Trippe argues that Eager’s opinions are not reliable and are speculative as he did not perform any tests to determine whether his theories were possible.  The court disagreed, stating that Eager’s report, deposition, and conclusions are reliable as they use accepted methodology and technical knowledge.  Any arguments that Trippe has with Eager’s conclusions can be addressed at cross examination.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the testimony of Harris’s expert witnesses are denied.