In Russell v. Whirlpool Corporation the US Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit has ruled that a fire causation expert witness’s testimony was reliable because of his fire scene investigation expertise and the reliable methodology he used. The Court reasoned:
In the context of fire investigations, we have held expert opinions formed on the basis of observations and experience may meet this reliability threshold. Shuck v. CNH America, 498 F.3d 868, 875 (8th Cir.2007); Hickerson v. Pride Mobility Prods. Corp., 470 F.3d 1252, 1257 (8th Cir.2006). In Shuck, we affirmed the admissibility of the testimony of a fire causation expert and a mechanical expert who ruled out oil starvation as the cause of a combine fire. The experts based their testimony on an inspection of the combine and observation of a dismantling of the combine’s engine. The defendants argued the experts’ testimony was not based on a reliable methodology because they did not test damaged combine parts, exemplar combine parts, or oil from the combine. We rejected that argument and held the experts used reliable methods when they “observed the relevant evidence, applied their specialized knowledge, and systematically included or excluded possible theories of causation.” Shuck, 498 F.3d at 875. In Hickerson, the defendant challenged the plaintiff’s expert’s conclusion a motorized power scooter caused a house fire as too speculative because the expert failed to eliminate other potential ignition sources. We found “nothing unreliable” in the expert’s methodology, in which he considered burn patterns, identified a point of origin, and eliminated as many alternative causes of the fire as possible.2 Hickerson, 470 F.3d at 1257. We have found reliability in these cases without insisting upon rigid adherence to the Daubert factors. As our prior caselaw instructs, we have reached these conclusions by examining the facts of each individual case, considering the Daubert factors to the extent they fit the facts. See Jaurequi v. Carter Mfg. Co., 173 F.3d 1076, 1083 (8th Cir.1999) (“[T]he district court must customize its [Daubert ] inquiry to fit the facts of each particular case.”). With this precedent in mind, we consider Giggy’s methodology.
As noted, Giggy interviewed Mr. Russell and eliminated alternative causes, documented the scene, and identified a “suspect area” by examining burn patterns on the studs in the portion of the wall that survived the fire. He reviewed the burn patterns on the kitchen appliances and confirmed with Mr. Russell the placement of the appliances in the kitchen before the fire. Based on the burn patterns on those appliances, the near-complete destruction of the refrigerator, its position at the bottom of the debris, and the metal thickness variation at the bottom part of the refrigerator frame, Giggy concluded the fire started in the refrigerator. We believe Giggy’s methods are sufficiently similar to the methods we found reliable in Shuck and Hickerson. Giggy did more than simply “eyeball” three kitchen appliances. He observed the relevant evidence, applied his specialized knowledge, excluded alternative causal theories, and reached a conclusion. These methods are more rigorous than the vague theorizing and ipse dixit logic we have rejected in the past. The analytical gap between the existing evidence and the opinion Giggy offered is not so great as to require exclusion.
Whirlpool’s arguments are better addressed to the jury regarding the weight to be afforded Giggy’s opinion, rather than to the district court on the question of admissibility. The Supreme Court has emphasized the usual tools to expose flaws in evidence remain available: “Vigorous cross-examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and careful instruction on the burden of proof are the traditional and appropriate means of attacking shaky but admissible evidence.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 596, 113 S.Ct. 2786; see also Olson v. Ford Motor Co., 481 F.3d 619, 626 (8th Cir.2007). Whirlpool made good use of these tools. The jury weighed the conflicting evidence and credited Giggy’s testimony, in spite of Whirlpool’s challenges. We find no error in this exercise of the adversarial process. The district court did not abuse its discretion when it admitted the challenged testimony.
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