Expert Article Library

Evidence Admissible Even Though It Technically Violated a Court Rule

Case Name: Golden Nugget, Inc. v. Chesapeake Bay Fishing Co., L.L.C. (unpublished(Click here for the full text of the case)

Court: United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit

Date: April 2, 2004

Expert: Electrical Fire Expert. Frederick West

Issue: Whether West’s admitted expert testimony on the cause of the fire that was not disclosed before trial was prejudicial or merely harmless error.

Summary of case: Plaintiff’s fishing boat caught fire while in the repair yard of defendant. Defendant’s employee had plugged a power cord into the ship so work could be performed and he cut the ground wire of the cord in order to prevent the circuit breaker from tripping. During welding several days later, a fire broke out in the cabin and was traced to a room fan.

Role of the expert: West investigated the cause of the fire and determined that voltage spiking caused the fire because of a thermal cutout.

Challenges to the Expert's testimony: Defendant challenged West’s testimony because he did not disclose his latest theory before trial in accordance with Federal Rule 26 (the discovery rule). The court held that although the lower court committed an error by allowing West’s testimony to “surprise” Defendant, the error was harmless because Defendant did not take the opportunity to give further evidence against West’s theory. The court affirmed the lower court’s ruling and allowed West’s testimony, even though it violated Rule 26.

Summary prepared by C. Wood, Student, University of California, Hastings College of the Law