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Lynch, Peter A. Mishandling fire claims can lose court cases. National Fire & Arson Report. Vol 15 No 3 (September 1997). p 9+.

Abstract: This article discusses the legal ramifications of failing to conduct a proper fire investigation and is focused towards claim handlers. It provides a very brief overview of some aspects of a fire investigation and some of the "pitfalls" that might be created by an inadequate investigation or scene documentation.

A case study involving an investigator whose credentials were called into question, as well as the fact that his scene investigation was conducted 10 months later and he failed to interview key personnel did not help his client's case.

The author stresses that it is important to follow scientific principles to avoid having one's opinion attacked as "junk science." The investigator should visit the scene promptly and adequately document it. Evidence should be obtained. Interviews should be conducted in accordance with the guidelines in NFPA 921, Guide to Fire and Explosion Investigations.

Issues such as evidence spoliation should be addressed.

The field adjuster must exercise caution when visiting a fire scene because of a number of inherent dangers that include toxic fumes, electrocution and structural hazards.

The claims adjuster should use caution in obtaining a fire investigator and be wary of the investigator who "always can find the cause of a fire." This is an unrealistic expectation.

It is important ot ensure that a fire investigation will withstand challenges in the courtroom. Scientific data and principles should be followed to obtain the best results.

Peter A. Lynch is a senior partner in San Diego with the national law firm of Cozen and O'Connor. (Profile provided by The National Fire & Arson Report)

 
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