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Goldberg Segalla Defeats Plaintiff’s Junk Science Claims Against Manufacturer in $5.3 Million Fire Trial

Case Study

Goldberg Segalla Defeats Plaintiff’s Junk Science Claims Against Manufacturer in $5.3 Million Fire Trial

March 1, 2012
John P. Freedenberg

Goldberg Segalla LLP successfully defended a manufacturer against a $5.3 million product liability claim in which the plaintiff, the owner of a bar that was destroyed by fire during a floor refinishing project, alleged that an intermittent spark from a brand-new product manufactured by our client caused the fire. The case highlights Goldberg Segalla’s capabilities to defend high-exposure product liability claims across the country — particularly the firm’s significant experience in fire litigation and dismissing “junk science” claims brought by plaintiffs’ experts.

John P. Freedenberg, Chair of Goldberg Segalla’s Product Liability Practice Group and a Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI), represented the manufacturer in this jury trial held in the Kalamazoo Ninth Judicial Circuit Court, Kalamazoo County, Michigan.

In this case, the bar owner was refinishing the hardwood floors of his bar using a highly flammable polyurethane. During the application of 73 gallons of this floor finish, which is three times more combustible than gasoline, he failed on multiple levels to take precautions clearly outlined on the polyurethane cans’ warning labels and in local ordinances, including failing to adequately ventilate the premises, failing to shut off open-flame gas pilot lights in several nearby kitchen appliances, operating the air conditioning system while applying the floor finish, and failing to shut off power to electrical appliances. A flash fire erupted under these highly volatile conditions and destroyed the bar. The owner and an employee escaped without harm, but after renovating and reopening the business, the owner claims the bar has never regained its previous level of success nor recaptured its pre-fire clientele.

The plaintiff’s experts devised a novel defect claim against an electrical product in use at the time of the fire, alleging, without evidence, that the product’s thermal protective device produced an unprecedented errant spark. They also alleged the burn patterns in the bar supported this theory. Jack and the defense team of fire origin, chemical engineering, and product safety experts used scientific evidence to disprove these groundless claims, demonstrating to the jury that burn patterns in a flash fire such as this one are not reliable indicators of the fire’s source and that the many continual and intermittent potential ignition sources on the scene could not be ruled out as a cause of the fire.

The jury issued its verdict on March 1, 2012, dismissing the case against the manufacturer in its entirety — saving our client the $5.3 million in potential damages claimed by the plaintiff.