by Richard Bennett ~ Cozen O'Connor
In James D. Fowler v. Nationwide Mutual Fire Ins. Co., 2014 WL 3844215, 2014 S.C. App. LEXIS 209 (S.C. App., Aug. 6, 2014), South Carolina’s Court of Appeals recently held that it was prejudicial error to allow the jury to consider either the report of a volunteer fire chief or his testimony on the issue of cause and origin if he does not qualify as an expert. The take away is that if a firefighter can’t testify as an expert, any opinion he or she has on causation is simply not a datum that the fact-finder is entitled to know about.
The insured’s home was destroyed by fire in January of 2007. His homeowner’s carrier, Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company, denied liability after a fire investigator hired by the carrier determined that the blaze was incendiary, and the insured brought suit. The fire was extinguished by the local volunteer fire department, after which its Chief, David Wright, completed a mandatory form known as a “Truck Report.” This stated that the fire originated in a kerosene heater in the living room and that the “Cause of Ignition” was “unintentional.”