Expert Article Library

Fire Experience Qualifies Engineer as Expert Witness

Case Name: Dillon Companies Inc. d/b/a/ King Soopers, Inc. v. Hussmann Corp. (http://www.ck10.uscourts.gov/opinions/03/03-1493.pdf)

Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Date: January 20, 2006

Expert: Civil Engineer. Fire Investigator. Roger Craddock

Issue: Whether the expert, a civil engineer, qualified to be an expert in a fire damage case

Summary of case: Supermarket King Soopers sued a commercial refrigeration contractor for negligence that caused a store-destroying fire during a remodel. Hussmann employees used acetylene oxygen torches in their work and ignited the combustible paper-faced insulation in the store. The jury found for King Soopers, but assessed 35% comparative fault against the supermarket.

Role of the expert: Roger Craddock testified on behalf of the defendant that the plaintiff had also been negligent on several counts. The highly flammable insulation was not covered and did not comply with building code, and there were no draft stops or sprinklers above the drop ceiling where the fire occurred.

Expert analysis: King Soopers challenged, on appeal (not before or during trial), the testimony of Roger Craddock stating that he was not qualified as an expert in a fire case because his background was in civil engineering, not architecture, structural engineering, or fire protection.

The Court of Appeals reviewed the admissibility of Craddock’s testimony for plain error. The Court found no credibility in the statement why someone had to be a structural or fire engineer to qualify as an expert witness regarding the origins of a fire. The expert only had to have specialized skill, knowledge, or experience that could help the jury make a decision. In this case, the expert, a civil engineer by education, was qualified by virtue of his experience in investigating large fires and fire-testing building materials, designing fire sprinkler systems and interpreting building codes. It was not plain error for his testimony to be admitted.

Summary prepared by K. Tanner, Student, University of California, Hastings College of Law.