The nature of major fire losses is such that they often give
rise to challenging issues surrounding causation, proof, and
quantification of damages, and to disputes between multiple adverse
parties. It is vital to obtain as much information as early as
possible after a major fire loss. With that in mind, the following
five-steps can serve as a useful checklist when faced with a major
1. Step 1- Immediate Steps: Two things to
consider immediately are to: (i) make sure the site is secure so
that no one gets hurt, and (ii) take immediate steps to preserve
and secure the property of your insured.
2. Step 2- Obtain Information: Following these
immediate steps, attempt to obtain as much information as possible
about the loss. Visit the site and document it by photographing all
angles of the area, both inside and out. Try to obtain as many
drawings of the building as possible, for example: construction,
as-built drawings, or fire evacuation drawings. These drawings can
then be cross-referenced to the photographs. Contact, and get as
much information as you can about the fire loss, from: (i) your
insured, (ii) the fire department, (iii) the fire department
incident commander, (iv) any witnesses to the fire, and (v) the
person who called the fire department. Do this sooner than later--
with time, people move away and their memories fade, so contact
them when the incident is fresh. It is also important to gain an
early understanding of the scope of damages. Obtain a contents
listing, along with quotes to rebuild the damaged building as soon
as possible. The key in gathering this kind of information, as with
all information gathering, is organization.
3. Step 3- Retain a Cause and Origin Expert:
Determining the cause of a fire will be an essential step in
proving liability. However, not all experts are alike. Check the
qualifications and experience of your experts. Have they ever
testified in court before? Have they ever written any articles in
the field? Meet with and get a feel for your expert. Do they
present well and act professionally? Much later, if the matter ever
proceeds to trial, the ability of your expert to communicate
technical matters in a straightforward way will be important. At
this point in time, provide your expert with an outline of any
major timelines you may have.
4. Step 4- Subrogation Potential: Have your cause
and origin expert identify who is potentially at fault for the
fire. Check for any product recalls. If there is a potential for
subrogation, make a note on the file. Try to put any potentially
adverse parties on early notice so that they are provided with an
early opportunity to conduct their own investigations.
5. Step 5- Preserve the Evidence and Avoid
Spoliation: Preserving the evidence is important, both to
make your case in the future, and to avoid any allegations from
adverse parties of spoliation (i.e. that the evidence was destroyed
along with their ability to defend themselves). If you ask your
expert to preserve evidence, follow up with a letter. Ensure your
expert rules out all other potential causes of the fire, and
documents and preserves the evidence which rules out those causes.
Do not allow your expert to conduct destructive testing without a
written agreement from all potentially adverse parties. Ensure that
potentially adverse parties are given an opportunity to view the
evidence, and ensure that all communications are in writing.
In sum, major fire losses will give rise to challenging issues
surrounding causation, proof, quantification of damages, and
dealing with multiple adverse parties. Obtaining as much
information as possible within the first 72 hours of a loss will be
of significant importance with respect to any future claims. So too
will the early identification of potentially adverse parties, along
with the provision of notice to those parties.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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