Subrogation in Fire Investigations: Advantages of ProtocolsAugust 28, 2019 - by Lawrence L. Canary
Read this full article in Barrister Magazine on the development of fire investigation guidelines, using protocols and a scientific approach, and why following these methods are so important for subrogation.
Fire scene investigation can be challenging and complex, especially when it involves matters of subrogation. All clients want to feel confident that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the fire investigator assigned to their case is conducting a complete and thorough scene examination. Today, because of the protocols in place, most clients can rest assured. But it wasn’t always like that.
Before international guidelines were in place, fire and explosion investigations were typically more aligned with the art of investigation, rather than art of science. Today, through the use of guidelines, scientific methods and protocols, it is much easier for a judge to accept an investigator’s opinion and/or evidence presented if the scene was conducted using such measures, and even more so when dealing with a subrogated claim.
The development of fire investigation guidelines
By the early 1990’s, the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) published guidelines that are still internationally accepted today in many locations around the world, as best practices. Following these steps can ensure the investigator addresses all the issues associated with the investigation.
Consider if, for instance, the origin of the fire was inaccurately identified. It is likely the cause would then be equally misidentified. A client retains professional fire and explosion investigators to obtain their independent opinion and/or conclusion. That opinion must be explained to an acceptable level of certainty to rise to the level of an expert opinion as determined by a judge.
Per NFPA 921, “The goal of all investigators is to arrive at an accurate determination related to the origin, cause, fire spread, and responsibility for the incident.” Not following the protocol and scientific method sets one up for a potential improper scene evaluation, analysis and documentation.
Determining subrogation in fire investigations
As anyone associated with the insurance industry understands, subrogation can sometimes be a bit of a chess match. A professional investigator that adhered to the standards of NFPA 1033 and the guidance of NFPA 921 will be more prepared to provide a comprehensive, accurate, detailed account of their evidence and findings, and moreover, ones that are easily understood in court.
By design, when used properly, following these guidelines can provide the trier of fact to accept not only the investigator as an expert to the court, but also the evidence.
About the Author
Larry Canary is the Vice President of Fire & Explosion. He has more than 30 years of fire investigation experience and has conducted or supervised over 1,600 fire investigations globally. He has testified as an expert in fire and explosion investigations and holds experience in large/complex loss management (one of the largest resulting in damages in excess of $100M), long duration deployment and team response assignments, including the largest CAT response in the United States.