Expert Article Library

Spontaneous Combustion of Lighter but No Product Defect

Case Name: Martin v. E-Z Mart Stores, Inc. (Click here for the full text of the case)

Court: 8th Circuit Court of Appeals

Date: September 27, 2006

Expert: Fire expert. John Nelson

Issue: Whether the expert testimony was sufficient to establish the existence of a manufacturing defect?

Summary of case: The plaintiff lit a cigarette with one of two lighters in his shirt pocket. The lighters were distributed by separate companies. He returned the lighter to his shirt pocket which then caught fire. Plaintiff brought suit alleging the lighter was defective.

Role of the expert: Nelson testified that the lighter the plaintiff used failed to extinguish after returning it to his pocket. He also testified that this most likely occurred because of foreign material in the valve/seal mechanism.

Challenges to the Expert's testimony: Defendants motion for summary judgment was granted. This was in part because Nelson failed to show evidence that the lighter was faulty at the time of manufacture and had not disproven that the lighter became faulty since it was purchased. He could also not state whether it was the result of a design or manufacturing defect. Summary judgment was also appropriate because the plaintiff could not remember and the expert could not determine which lighter was the one the plaintiff had used. The Court of Appeals held that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in granting summary judgment for defense.

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