Expert Article Library

Fire Experts Fail to Demonstrate Their Findings

Case Name: Miller v. Baker Implement Co.(Click here for the full text of the case)

Court: 8th Circuit Court of Appeals

Date: March 1, 2006

Experts: Engineers. William Ford and Ernest Barany. Fire origin investigations. Jim Swain.

Issue: Whether the experts showed the feasibility or possibility of an onboard fire suppression system or other alternative design, and whether they showed that working extinguishers would have decreased the damage?

Summary of case: Miller’s cotton picker machine was destroyed by fire after neither of its two attached fire extinguishers discharged. This is a suit against the manufacturers of the cotton picker, the fire extinguishers and the distributor alleging negligence, breach of warranty, strict liability as well as other statutory violations.

Role of the expert: Ford suggested that an onboard fire suppression system or working fire extinguishers would have mitigated the damage from the fire. Swain testified that failure of the extinguishers to work also contributed to the fire. Barany testified that the damages would have been significantly less had there been an automated fire system like there is on other types of machines.

Challenges to the Expert's testimony: Defendants challenged the expert testimony, and the court ruled that the plaintiff was required to show that it would have been possible to equip Miller's picker with the proposed on board fire suppression safety features and that they would have contained the fire. Neither Ford nor Swain had done this. Barany failed to demonstrate that it would have been possible to equip Miller's picker with an onboard suppression system, that this cotton picker required an onboard suppression system, that the extinguishers were defective, or that cartridge extinguishers could have even limited the damage caused by this fire. The Court of Appeals held that the District Court properly excluded the expert testimony.

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