December 7, 2022. Partner Joseph Kaiser and Senior Associate Ankur Trivedi won a defense verdict in a fire subrogation case tried in the State Court of Douglas County before Senior Judge William O. Detmering. The case arose out of a house fire that occurred in Lithia Springs on July 31, 2018. Mr. Kaiser and Mr. Trivedi’s client Jeff Hampton was renting the house at the time and living there with his wife and 3 year old child. On the morning in question, Mr. Hampton woke up early and walked out of his bedroom to find his house full of thick black smoke. He attempted to get his wife and child out through a window but the windows had been painted shut by the homeowner, so they had to go through the fire and snoke to exit the house via the front door.
Allstate insured the homeowner and they brought this lawsuit against Mr. Hampton as the subrogee of their insured. After investigation was made, it was determined that the cause of the fire was a power cord to the filter in Mr. Hampton’s aquarium. At trial, Allstate presented a theory that Mr. Hampton likely sat a piece of furniture on the cord which resulted in damage to the cord. Allstate produced a cause and origin investigator that testified as to the area of origin of the fire. They also produced a forensic engineer that concluded the fire was caused by arcing inside the power cord. His conclusion was that the power cord was “abused” in some manner and became damaged. However, both of Plaintiff’s experts testified the fire originated above ground level and could not have been caused by a piece of furniture sitting on the cord. This testimony was contrary to the Plaintiff’s theory of the case. The defense had retained an engineer as well, but did not call them at trial because he reached the same conclusion as to the origin of the fire being the power cord in question. The Plaintiff did not produce any witness or expert to testify as to what duty Mr. Hampton breached that resulted in the fire. The defense called Mr. Hampton at trial who testified that he had installed the filter on the aquarium and the cord was hanging loosely behind the aquarium. He also testified the cord was not long enough to reach the floor. The Plaintiff requested and was granted a jury charge on Res Ipsa Loquitor although Mr. Hampton resided at the home with other people and did not have exclusive control of the premises.
The Plaintiff claimed damages of $98,000 and that amount had been stipulated to as the actual amount of damages. The parties further stipulated the fire was the cause of the damages in question, thus negligence was the only matter for the jury’s consideration. The Plaintiff requested a verdict in their favor and Mr. Kaiser requested a defense verdict on the sole question of negligence. The jury deliberated for less than 10 minutes and returned a defense verdict.
The Case is Allstate Insurance Company as subrogee of Gregg Reid v. Jeffrey Hampton, State Court of Douglas County CAFN 19SV00604.
Read more about Partner Joseph Kaiser here.
Read more about Senior Associate Ankur Trivedi here.