Judge M. Yvette Miller, Georgia Court of Appeals. (John Disney/ALM)
If a ruling by the Georgia Court of Appeals stands, a homeowner who claims her television exploded and caused a fire that killed her husband and son will never get a chance to take her case to a jury.
Writing for a panel of three, Judge M. Yvette Miller came down on the side of LG Electronics against Debbie Cash. Miller upheld Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Pamela South, who dismissed Cash’s causation expert on a Daubert challenge, then granted summary judgment in favor of LG.
“The evidence in this case shows that, on the morning of July 6, 2011, Cash’s son woke up and went into the living room to watch TV,” Miller wrote. “He then came into Cash’s room and told Cash and her husband that the house was on fire. When Cash looked in the living room, she saw green-black smoke and that the entire entertainment center was on fire.”
The parents tried without success to extinguish the fire. The mother escaped the house, thinking her husband and son were already out. Then she climbed in a window to pull her daughter out.
“Once Cash realized her husband and son were trapped in the house, the fire was too extensive for her to rescue them,” Miller said. The husband died in the house. The son died afterward in a hospital.
“Cash and her surviving daughter filed suit against LG Electronics, Inc. alleging, among other claims, strict liability and negligence,” Miller wrote. “Cash claims that the LG television in her living room was the cause of the fire, and in support she submitted the expert testimony of an engineer who attempted to recreate the origin of the fire.
“Upon LG’s motion, the trial court excluded the expert’s testimony, finding that the expert’s opinion was not based on sufficient facts or reliable principles and methods, as required by Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U. S. 579 … (1993),” Miller said. “After excluding Cash’s causation expert, the trial court granted summary judgment to LG based on the lack of competent and admissible evidence that there was a defect in the television that caused the fire.”
The excluded expert posed a hypothesis targeting the television’s power supply board as the trigger to a chain reaction causing the fire. But Miller found “simply too great an analytical gap between the data and the opinion proffered.” She said the expert could not back up his findings without manipulating the reactions of the equipment in his tests.
Miller also found that a trial judge has “substantial discretion in deciding how to test an expert’s reliability.” Miller added, “The party seeking to rely on the expert bears the burden of proving the expert is sufficiently reliable.”
Cash’s attorneys could not be reached to ask whether they plan to appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court. Her team includes Jason Webster of Webster Law Firm in Houston, which is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey, and David Sleppy of Cathey & Strain in Cornelia, in northeast Georgia in Habersham County, which was without power, phone and internet from Hurricane Irma. Calls to both firms were unanswered Tuesday.
Edward Bresee of Mozley Finlayson & Loggins in Atlanta was part of the LG defense team. Bresee said Monday he could not discuss the opinion without his client’s approval.
The case is Cash v. LG Electronics, No. A17A0878.