Johnson Controls Exploding Battery Trial Nears

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By Bruce Kaufman

Aug. 22 — Trial is set for Sept. 19 in a failure-to-warn suit against Johnson Controls ( Martin v. Interstate Battery Sys. of N. Am., 2016 BL 268355, N.D. Okla., No. 12-cv-00184, 8/18/16 ).

Recreational fisherman George Martin alleges he was severely injured when a marine battery made by Johnson “violently exploded” on his power boat.

In a series of pre-trial rulings, plaintiffs' engineering expert Dean Jacobson was allowed to testify that the 2010 Interstate Marine RV Deep Cycle battery was defective because it lacked warnings related to charge type and electrolyte level maintenance.

But Jacobson wasn't qualified to testify as to the hypothetical warnings that Martin should have gotten in order to prevent the lead acid battery from being used with unregulated battery chargers, which allow overcharging, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma said Aug. 18.

The court also allowed Martin to substitute Jacobson with colleague David Bosch as an expert witness, citing “medical reasons.”

To reduce prejudice to the defendants, Bosch's testimony will be “limited to the four-corners of Dr. Jacobson’s expert report—that is, he will not be allowed to testify beyond the scope of what Dr. Jacobson’s testimony would have been,” Judge John E. Dowdell said.

Causation testimony by defendant's engineer Joseph Liedhegner, who was to testify that the 2011 explosion was caused by an external spark source and severe overcharging, was rejected.

Liedhegner's testimony might have been appropriate if the claims were based on design or manufacturing defect, but the case turns on the appropriateness of the provided warnings, the court said.

Plaintiffs' attorneys include Levinson, Smith & Huffman.

Defense attorneys include Reed Smith.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Kaufman in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Steven Patrick at and Nicholas Datlowe at

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