Last month, the Third Circuit affirmed a decision granting summary judgment to the maker and seller of a halogen lamp believed to have caused a fire that destroyed a New Jersey home. They had been sued by State Farm, which had paid for the damage and wanted its money back. Its investigation concluded that the standing lamp had probably caused the fire after its bulb came in contact with some nearby drapes.
The problem was proving how that might have happened, since the drapes were a couple of feet away from the bulb, which was in a recess at the top of the lamp. The expert’s answer: the dog did it.
He testified that the homeowners’ dog "might have accidentally pulled the window draperies over the lamp or knocked or tilted the lamp into the draperies in an effort to investigate the tree trimming that was occurring in the home’s vicinity that day." (The dog could not be questioned about the theory because sadly he died in the fire.) But he could not definitively say that the lamp was knocked over before the fire began, and another State Farm expert said he believed it had not been.
The court held that the first expert’s effort to blame the fire on the dead dog "was speculative insofar as this theory was not supported by any scientific analysis or methodology that indicated that the dog in fact brought the draperies into contact with the halogen lamp." Odd that he couldn’t present his scientific methodology on dog behavior, but in any event the court excluded the testimony and that left State Farm with no causation evidence. Case dismissed.
State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Holmes Products, No. 04-4532 (3d Cir. Jan. 31, 2006).