Expert Article Library

Fire Expert Allowed to Testify to Product Defect

Case Name: Hickerson v. Pride Mobility Products Corp. (Click here for the full text of the case)

Court: 8th Circuit Court of Appeals

Date: December 13, 2006

Expert: Fire Expert. William L. Schoffstall , Certified fire scene investigator

Issues: Whether the plaintiff’s expert was qualified to testify about a defect in the motorized scooter as he was not an expert in the engineering or manufacturing of motorized chairs or scooters?

Summary of case: Plaintiff had lost his wife and home in a fire. Plaintiff brought a suit against the manufacturer of a motorized wheelchair or scooter that he suspected was the cause of the fire. Summary judgment was granted in part to the defendants.

Role of the expert: Schoffstall testified that he was able to exclude the usual areas that fires start as being the cause of the fire at issue. Although he was not able to conclude that the chair had in fact caused the fire, he was able to conclude that the power chair was the only possible source of ignition.

Challenges to the Expert's testimony: Defendant claimed that Schoffstall was not an electrical engineer or a manufacturing expert and was thus not qualified to offer an opinion about a defect in the chair. However, the Court of Appeal held that Schoffstall is a fire expert, and thus made his conclusions through a process of elimination that left the only possible source of the fire to be the power chair. He was only being offered as a cause and origin expert, and as he relied on a res ipsa type theory of implied defect his testimony was admissible. With the expert testimony being admissible it was concluded that the District Court improperly granted summary judgment in this case. This case was reversed and remanded.

Summary prepared by M. Lanzone, Student, University of California, Hastings College of Law