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Breaking Legal Developments


Published by:
Peter A. Lynch, Esq.
of Cozen O'Connor


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:      This weekly newsletter covers:

  1. Maine Court finds fire expert qualified based on his experience


In TNT Road Company v. Sterling, the District Court of Maine, overruled a defendant's motion to exclude testimony of a cause and origin investigator. The case involved a fire in a 1999 Freighliner truck, manufactured by Sterling. The expert was of the opinion the fire started spontaneously in the truck's ignition switch and the fire could only have started if the switch was defective.

The expert was attacked by the defendants claiming he was not qualified nor was investigation proper. The defendants claimed he should not be permitted to testify because he lacked a college degree, was not a certified fire investigator nor was he a licensed investigator. The court in footnote 2 in the opinion also rejected an attack based on his failure to be a licensed Maine private investigator.

The court noted the expert had twenty years in the automotive industry. Ten years being as a truck mechanic. He had his own business rebuilding heavy duty electrical components. He has investigated hundreds of vehicle and equipment losses, several which were fires. He attended courses by the Massachusetts Chapter of the IAAI. He has 30-36 hours on vehicle fires with 6-12 on investigation of fires. He has engaged in 12 vehicle fire investigations to include this truck. Five predated the investigation. He has also had on the job training.

The court found he might not be the most highly educated or experienced but that went to the weight of the testimony not admissibility.

The court also found his methodology used was reliable. His investigation substantially complied with NFPA 921. The court noted the fact the expert formed his opinion quickly might suggest a slipshod investigation or that it was relatively easy to determine. The court found the expert qualified to present expert testimony.

Mr. Lynch can be reached at Cozen and O'Connor, 501 West Broadway, Suite 1610, San Diego, California 92101, 800-782-3366 (voice), 619-234-7831 (fax), (e-mail), Follow us on Twitter at @firesandrain.

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