Gopalratnam v. ABC Insurance Co., No. 17-1810 (7th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Arun Gopalratnam purchased an HP laptop computer that contained a DynaPack battery pack with Samsung lithium-ion battery cells. Months later, the Menomonee Falls Fire Department responded to a major fire in a basement bedroom of the Gopalratnam’s home. After the fire was extinguished, firefighters discovered Arun deceased on the floor of the room. Am autopsy classified smoke inhalation as the cause of death, with no evidence of pre-fire injury or disease, and no drugs or alcohol in Arun’s system. Special Agent Martinez concluded that the fire originated in the basement bedroom where Arun’s body was located. Martinez excluded multiple potential sources of the blaze (electrical and gas meters, electrical distribution panels, gas-fueled furnaces, electrical plugs, light switch, and ceiling light fixture) but could not ascertain the fire’s ultimate cause. He did not eliminate a possible mattress fire. The remains of Arun’s HP laptop, cell phone, and the laptop battery cells, were in the debris. In the Gopalratnams’ suit, alleging negligence, strict products liability, and breach of warranty, the plaintiffs claimed that a defective battery cell in Arun’s laptop caused the fire. The district court granted motions to exclude plaintiffs’ expert witnesses on causation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court applied the proper legal standard: The admissibility of expert testimony is governed by Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and Daubert. The experts failed to account for other possible explanations.