Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. National RV Holdings, Inc., No. 05-cv-2509 (M.D. Pa. March 28, 2007)

The Court denied Defendant Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp.’s (“FCCC”) motion to exclude the expert opinion of Dr. Mignogno, pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993), and denied Plaintiff Nationwide’s motion to exclude the expert testimony of W.L. Davison, pursaunt to Rule 702 and Daubert. The dispute arose out of a fire in a motor home, and the key issue in dispute was the cause of the fire.

First, the Court considered FCCC’s motion to exclude the testimony of Nationwide’s origin-and-cause expert witness, Dr. Mignogno. In his expert report, Mignogno drew several major conclusions: (1) that the fire originated in the right rear corner of the vehicle; (2) that the vehicle’s components (including electrical, heating, and refrigeration components) did not cause the fire; (3) that a hole existed in the flexible exhaust pipe before the fire occurred; (4) that “[t]he hole in the flexible exhaust pipe . . . allowed hot exhaust gasses to contact combustibles in the area, which ignited the combustibles, causing this event”; and (5) that a “flexible exhaust pipe should not have been used in this area. Instead a pre-bent exhaust pipe should have been used.” FCCC objected on various grounds to Mignogno’s third, fourth, and fifth conclusions.

The Court held that Mignogno was qualified to testify that a hole existed in the flexible exhaust pipe before the fire occurred, as the relevant field was fire investigation, rather than metallurgy and material science. However, with respect to Mignogno’s opinion that a pre-bent pipe should have been used, the Court reserved ruling, finding that Mignogno’s qualifications with respect to comparing rigid tubing to flexible tubing were unclear. Next, the Court held that Mignogno’s opinion that the hole in the flexible exhaust pipe allowed hot gasses to contact combustible in the area was sufficiently reliable, as the opinion was based on the methodology set forth in NFPA 921, which is widely accepted as reliable.

Next, the Court considered Nationwide’s motion to exclude testimony offered by National RV Holdings’ expert witness, W.L. Davison. Nationwide’s argument rested primarily on its assertion that Davison did not conduct a sufficiently thorough investigation of the motor home before reaching his conclusions. Nationwide also suggested that Davison’s testimony was unreliable because he neither conducted a complete investigation pursuant to the guidelines set forth in NFPA 921 nor attempted to determine the cause of the fire himself. However, the Court held that, because National RV Holdings intended to call Davison for the sole purpose of rebutting Mignogno’s testimony, not to advance a different causation theory, Nationwide bore the burden of proof to identify the cause of the fire, and that Davison’s methodology was sufficiently reliable.

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