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Court Sets Forth Requirements for Admissibility of Origin and Cause Opinions

In an extensive analysis, one court has established a high threshold for demonstrating a reliable methodology, straight from the text of NFPA 921. Fireman's Fund Ins. Co. v. Tecumseh Products Co., 767 F.Supp.2d 549 (D. MD 2011) is an excellent illustration of how a court thoroughly contrasts an expert's methodology to NFPA 921.

There, the court noted that NFPA 921 'instructs the investigator to collect data about the fire "by observation, experiment, or other direct ... means,' to analyze the data objectively and without speculation, to develop a hypothesis based solely on the data collected, to test the hypothesis by comparing it to all known facts, and to repeat the process until all feasible hypotheses have been tested." Id. at 554. "Until all these steps are completed, NFPA 921 unambiguously requires an investigator to list the cause of the fire as undetermined." Id. at 554. "Chapter Eight contains more specific provisions for framing hypotheses regarding electrical fires. Paragraph 8.9.1.3 provides that: In considering the possibility of an electrical ignition, the temperature and duration of the heating must be great enough to ignite the initial fuels. The type and geometry of the fuel must be evaluated to be sure that the heat was sufficient to generate combustible vapors and for the heat source still to be hot enough to ignite those vapors." Id. at 554.

"Facts about the characteristics of the fuels and materials involved in an electrical fire are thus part of the data set that an investigator must assemble in order to carry out the process prescribed in Chapter Four." Id. at 554. Testing of the expert's hypothesis is a key component of the Daubert inquiry and "the failure to properly test a hypothesis is often grounds for excluding expert testimony in this jurisdiction." Id. at 554. The expert "must demonstrate not only that his hypothesis is plausible, but that it, and not some alternative hypothesis, best explains the event in question." Id. at 555.

"Finally, courts have also required experts to demonstrate that objects and materials are capable of behaving in the manner they hypothesize under the conditions of the event in question." Id. at 555. The court excluded the expert’s testimony for failing to meet these standards.

© Copyright 2020 Armstrong Teasdale LLP. All rights reserved National Law Review, Volume II, Number 274

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Our fire and electrical liability attorneys are fully immersed in fire and explosion issues. We are experienced in fire and explosion training, are active members of professional and legal organizations devoted to these areas and are respected leaders in the industry. In fact, our attorneys are so well-versed in the industries they serve, they are often called upon to share knowledge and experience as instructors, authors and advisors. Our fire and electrical liability clients include well-known companies in the energy, chemical, gas and petroleum industries; product manufacturers and...

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