Judge rules two expert witnesses can testify about 2016 yacht pump failure, fire

By Karen Kidd | Apr 11, 2019

MIAMI — Two expert witnesses will be allowed to testify about a pump failure that cause a fire in a yacht in 2016, according to a federal judge's recent order.

U.S. District Court Judge Beth Bloom of Florida's Southern District denied a motion by National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, subrogee in the case, to exclude the expert testimony.

It is not the "burden" of the defendant in the case, marine impeller pump manufacturer SPX Flow US LLC, to prove that a "dry-run" caused the pump to fail, as one of the expert witnesses, David Pope, is expected to testify, Bloom wrote in her 14-page order issued March 14.

"The court agrees with defendant that Pope's finding that a dry run occurred, regardless of when, is relevant to whether the plaintiff eliminated dry run as a cause of the impeller pump failure," Bloom said in her order.

National Union filed suit in March 2018 over damage to a yacht during summer 2016. A raw water impeller pump manufactured by SPX and installed on the vessel's engine the previous year overheated and caused a fire that damaged the yacht's engine room, according to the background portion of Bloom's order.

"The parties agree that the impeller pump failed but disagree as what caused the failure," Bloom said in her order. "The plaintiff maintains a manufacturing defect caused the impeller pump hub's blades to brake. The defendant argues that there is no evidence of a manufacturing defect in the subject impeller pump, but rather, the impeller 'ran dry,' meaning that the pump was deprived of the water that it needed to function."

Parties in the case also agree that National Union must demonstrate either a manufacturing defect in the impeller pump or "eliminate all reasonable explanations for the impeller pump's failure other than a manufacturing defect" to prevail in the case, Bloom said in her order.

National Union wanted to exclude or limit expert testimony from Pope, a materials science professor, and Ron Parsons, a master mechanic and certified fire investigator, regarding their finding about what caused the impeller pump to fail. Pope said the pump failed for lack of sufficient water, while Parsons said an obstruction prevented water from entering the pump, according to Bloom's order.

National Union wanted Pope's opinion excluded "for failure to utilize a reliable methodology or to properly apply a reliable methodology," Bloom's order said.

The insurance company also wanted Parsons' expert testimony excluded saying his opinion being is "not helpful and is without foundational support," "is not connected to the data" and "is unreliable because Parsons did not calculate the amount of time it would take for a pump failure to occur."

SPX countered that Pope's opinion is supported "by his evaluation of the evidence" and "that Parsons used a reliable method to investigate the possibility that an obstruction prevented water from entering the pump," Bloom's order said.  "Additionally, the failure to connect and test the seawater flow alarm are relevant as to the issues of proximate cause and comparative fault."

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