Net Opinions Are Not A Smoking Gun

Submitted by New Jersey Civil Case Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark

Expert Witness to Determine Cause of Fire

In New Jersey there is a net opinion rule that prevents overly general expert opinions that are not supported by factual evidence from being admitted. In other words experts must provide factual backing for the conclusions they draw. In Sayta Sankalp, LLC v. Five Start Auction Inc., an expert was hired to conclude what caused a fire at a warehouse. Both the fire expert for the defendant and a captain from the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety concluded that careless smoking was not a cause of the fire.

Fire Analysis and the Scientific Processs

When it comes to analyzing a fire the scientific process is outlined by the National Fire Protection Association which requires that the hypotheses be tested to the point that no other hypothesis would be feasible. Obviously a net opinion is not capable of meeting this standard.

Opinion Versus Fact in Cause of Fire

The expert report for the plaintiff opined that smoking was the cause mainly because of an interview with one of the warehouse employees who said he saw someone smoking. But in order for that statement to have evidentiary value in a report it first must be shown that smoking was in fact the cause, not just that it occurred. In this particular case the defendant’s expert and the fire Captain both based their opinion that smoking was not the cause of the fire based on the speed of the fire and the fact that the heat set off the alarms before any smoke did. This record supports the finding that the expert for the plaintiff provided a net opinion that did not take the individualized facts of the incident into account and was weakly based on the fact that one employee may or may not have seen another employee smoke.

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