(CN) – Armed with insights from Soviet-era masterpiece “The Master and Margarita,” a federal judge has allowed a couple to sue General Electric over a stove that they claim one of their 18 cats must have activated, starting the fire that destroyed their home.
At approximately 5 a.m. on Aug. 24, 2006, a fire broke out at the home of Joseph and Nancy Bertrand, their two children, and their 18 pet cats.
Joseph Bertrand woke to the sound of a smoke detector and was able to get his family safely out of the house before it was enveloped in flames. The fire destroyed the home and most of its contents.
A city fire investigator determined that the fire originated in the left rear burner of the Bertrands’ General Electric gas cooking range. The burner ignited a plastic cutting board that had been left on the stove. He noted both on-scene and in a separate lab test that the burner’s knob could be turned to the ‘on’ position without depressing the knob.
The Bertrands brought a product liability suit against General Electric, maintaining that the “push-to-turn” safety feature of their stove failed and permitted a cat to turn the stove on.
According to Joseph Bertrand, some of the 18 cats they kept in the home occasionally jumped onto the stove.
General Electric moved to preclude the testimony of the Bertrand’s expert witness, Peter Chen, for lack of qualifications. The company moved for summary judgment on the same basis.
U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns denied both of General Electric’s motions, as he was fully satisfied with Chen’s qualifications.
“A licensed mechanical engineer with an advanced degree and years of hands-on experience with jet engine design and structural analysis, Chen is well within his competence in examining the workings of a burner switch on a simple kitchen stove,” Stearns said.