Who Owns the Evidence?

Recently, we conducted the examination of a 2013 Kia Soul, the purpose of which was to determine the cause of a fire. The vehicle had developed a problem with the antilock braking system and was taken to a local shop for repair. While on the shop’s lot and after an overnight, the vehicle was destroyed by fire the following day. During the examination of the vehicle, it was later confirmed that the fire had occurred on the repair shop’s property. It was also confirmed that the vehicle was owned by a third party. As a result, since the vehicle was evidence in the investigation, and since the vehicle was owned by the third party, the right of evidence ownership belonged to the third party. The implication being that any disassembly, or more importantly, any destruction of the evidence could be regarded as an act of “spoliation”. Spoliation of evidence refers to evidence that has been violated to the extent that one party to a lawsuit cannot use the evidence to prove its case. The party that causes the spoliation can usually be held liable by means of litigation. In these types of cases where the owner of the evidence is not the investigating expert’s client, care must be taken not to handle, remove, or otherwise examine something that can be altered by handling, broken, or replaced in its original position or state. It is advisable to photograph and document the condition of evidence and then conduct a joint examination with all interested parties at a later time.

Water Damage and Frost-Proof Faucets

Many homes and businesses are now equipped with something called a frost-proof faucet.  These devices are nothing new and have been around for several years.  They have all but replaced the old style water hydrants that had to be wrapped or covered and protected during winter months to keep them from bursting.  But, in order for a frost-proof faucet to work properly, it must be installed properly.  You would think that a plumber would be especially mindful of the consequences if they didn’t do the job right.  In any case, frost-proof faucets do rupture and the resulting water leakage can cause damage, either in a crawl space or inside a wall.  The photographs below show how the copper tube expanded at the point of rupture indicating where the water turned to ice and stressed the tube to the point of failure.  In order to understand what happened, it is necessary to understand that the faucet is equipped with a long stem that runs from the valve handle to the end of the copper tube where the water line is connected.  This is where the valve seat is located.  The valve seat is actually the part that stops the water flow when the valve is turned off.  If the faucet is installed horizontally or pitched upward, water will stay inside the copper tube instead of draining out of the hose connection end when the faucet is turned off.  The faucet must be pitched slightly downward with the hose connection end lower than the water line inlet end. Even if the valve seat is leaking, water must be allowed to drain out of the faucet.  In the case of the faucet in the photograph, when the water froze, its tendency was to expand to approximately 9 to 11% of its volume.  However, because of the enclosure within the copper tube, the ice could not freely expand.  As a result, the tube wall was stressed to a point where failure occurred.

Failed Water Hydrant
Expanded copper wall shown as bulge just to left of water line attachment
Area of copper tube wall failure

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