Tuesday, December 21, 2004

No peer review required of toaster expert

In a design defect case involving a fire arising from a Pop-Tart in a Hamilton Beach toaster, Michael Wald, an EE with no toaster manufacturing experience and no special insight into the qualities of Pop-Tarts, has been qualified as an expert witness.

The judge wrote: "Wald's education and experience in electrical engineering and his experience determining the cause of electrical fires and mechanical malfunctions is sufficient foundation for him to testify as to the design of the toaster which may have resulted in a fire." The judge functioned in the "gatekeeping" role of the judiciary as required under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 US 579 (1993).

In his report, Wald stated that toasters generally have a strip made of two metals that bends when heated. At a certain temperature, the strip touches a rod, which closes the switch contacts and turns off the toaster. Wald said that as far as he can tell, every manufacturer except Hamilton Beach has something between the rod and the toasting chamber to prevent food debris from mucking up the works.

Hamilton Beach had argued that Wald is not an expert as defined under Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

The court disagreed, saying, "In this case, the testing that was performed by Wald was so specific to this situation that it is not reasonable to require that it have been subject to peer review, have a known or potential rate of error, or have general acceptance within the scientific community."

One recalls that in the Dash case on a patent application in the cold fusion area, the court did not require that the evidence relied on by the examiner be subject to peer review.


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