Defective Electrical Wiring Allegedly Causes Yacht Fire


Electrical Engineering Expert

Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Atl. Specialty Ins. Co. v. Porter, Inc.
Citation: 742 Fed. Appx. 850

Facts

This case involves a yacht caught fire. The plaintiffs, the insurer and the owner, sued the boat’s manufacturer, Porter, Inc., alleging that the yacht was defective. The plaintiffs alleged that the water dripping caused an electrical current to travel through the boat’s wiring system and melt the wires, in turn, igniting a factory-installed sectional sofa on the starboard side of the vessel. The defendant argued that the cause of the fire was undetermined and that there was no connection between the corroded pigtail and the fire.

The Electrical Engineering Expert

The plaintiffs retained an electrical engineering expert to inspect the boat both individually and jointly with two of the defendant’s representatives. In his first inspection report, the expert confirmed that the fire originated near the sectional sofa. During the joint inspection, he found evidence of significant burning behind the sofa and evidence of electrical activity and conductor severing in the nearby DC wiring harnesses. The expert also observed a deteriorated pigtail connection that was corroded and exhibited signs of electrical damage consistent with that of water intrusion.

The expert performed a wiring analysis but could not determine the relationship between the pigtail connector and the area of fire origin. He also conducted a field wiring analysis on the yacht but could not determine which devices might have been involved or whether the ground circuit was involved. He theorized that the flowing water corroded the pigtail connector and led to a short circuit causing an electrical current to travel through the boat and overheating its connections, resulting in the fire.

The defendant filed a motion in limine to exclude the plaintiff’s expert which was granted by the district court.

Court Discussion

The plaintiffs challenged the district court’s exclusion arguing the court erred in its judgment. The district court decided that there was a possibility the expert’s theory held weight, however, his report showed flawed methodology. Hence, the reliability of the report and theory were questionable. The expert failed to provide any critical data with respect to the fire or conduct testing to support his hypothesis. Without any critical information, the expert’s report was considered speculative. The court found that the district court did not err in finding that such a gap existed between the data presented and the opinion offered. Therefore, the court found no abuse of discretion in the district court’s exclusion of the expert’s testimony.

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