Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division
Case Name: Meemic Ins. Co. v. Hewlett-Packard Co.
Citation: 717 F. Supp. 2d 752
In this insurance dispute, an electrical engineering expert is tasked with opining on the source of an electrical fire related to a printer power cord. The expert, however, fails to base his testimony on scientific principles or offer peer-reviewed methodology. Without clear support from scientifically valid principles, the court cannot admit the expert per the Daubert standard.
In this case, the plaintiff insurance company brought a subrogation claim against the defendant manufacturer alleging breach of implied warranty, product liability, and negligence stemming from a house fire. The plaintiff insured the home and alleged the fire was started by a defendant-manufactured printer due to an unexplained fault in the AC power adapter. The plaintiff retained an electrical engineering expert to support their case. In the defendant’s motion for summary judgment before the court, they included a challenge to the expert’s testimony.
The Plaintiff’s Electrical Engineering Expert Witness
The plaintiff retained an electrical engineering expert witness to inspect various electrical components and to determine how the printer’s AC power adapter contributed to the fire at issue. The electrical engineering expert wired for EFI Global as an Engineering Supervisor and Senior Electrical Engineer. EFI clients are typically insurance providers interested in subrogation claims and the expert was responsible for resolving electrical engineering-related claims.
To inform his report, the expert examined documentation recovered from the house and set up an evidence testing facility. In his testing, the expert only examined items retrieved from the incident, including the AC power adapter.
The expert concluded that the cause of the fire was an issue in the AC power adapter of the printer, most likely due to an unexplained manufacturing flaw. He reached this conclusion based on a visual examination of the AC power adapter and the fact that the plaintiff’s causation expert told him that the AC power adapter was kept within the area where the fire originated. Further, the expert relied on the evidence that the AC power adapter’s cord insulation was still intact at the remote ends of each cord and the AC power adapter was sufficiently destroyed to totally damage the unit’s housing materials.
The defendant argued, if the expert was qualified to testify, his testimony here was not reliable and could not be allowed to support the plaintiff’s arguments. The defendant alleged that the expert’s opinions were not the results of reliable principles or methodology because he refused to verify any of his hypotheses. Further, the defendant explained that the expert had not proposed any idea that was subject to peer review and dissemination, had a proven or possible error rate, or was accepted in the engineering community.
The court noted that while the expert had established a general theory that the AC power adapter caused the fire, he could not prove that the AC power adapter could have caused the fire. The expert’s findings were not founded on reliable concepts and methodology, but on his personal experience.
The court also observed that the expert’s visual examination and opinion that the damage to the AC power adapter damage was severe was within the common knowledge of the average jury and invades the province of the jury. The expert’s testimony, based on speculation and conjecture, would confuse the jury and not assist the trier of fact.
The defendant’s motion to exclude the plaintiff’s electrical engineering expert witness testimony was granted.
Key Takeaways for Experts
This case shows the importance of basing all expert testimony on acceptable methodology. Understand your jurisdiction’s gatekeeping standard and use this to guide the content and sources of your report.