Space Heater Fire Cause

Recently, we were asked to investigate a fire involving a newly purchased space heater. Space heaters tend to be small heating appliances meant to heat “small” spaces inside a home or other building. In this particular case, the heater was intended for use with propane gas and rated with a capacity of 30,000 BTU/hr. The homeowner had purchased the heater from a local Home Depot store and installed the heater himself. The installation amounted to connecting the heater to a gas supply line. After approximately three days use, a fire occurred. Luckily, the fire was quickly extinguished with minimal burn damage to the floor and smoke damage throughout the remainder of the home. Upon visual examination of the gas line connection, it was noted that the shutoff valve had been attached to the heater gas line fitting. The proper position for the shut off valve was in the gas supply line from the home at the point where the line was accessed above the floor. The outlet of the valve is then supposed to be connected to that part of the gas line that is connected to the heater. However, the main problem was found to have been in the connection of the valve to the heater fitting. The shut off valve appeared to have been cross-threaded onto the fitting. The pipe joint compound used to seal the threaded connection was also scorched and was indicative as well as a confirmation of a gas leak at that point. In should be noted that since propane is heavier than air, an accumulation around the heater while it was in operation would have ignited, which is what actually happened. The photographs below show how the shut off valve was misaligned with the heater fitting and the resulting damage to the heater.

Holiday Fires

This is the time of year when everyone gets excited because Christmas is almost here.  It’s also the time when happiness can turn to disappointment in the blink of an eye.  Disasters caused by fire don’t take a holiday just because it’s Christmas.  This is a time when we need to be especially careful when hanging lights and decorating our trees.  If your strings of lights are frayed, bare or arcing, don’t use them.  If you are using ornaments that contain internal lighting, be sure that the wires are not pinched, the insulation is not cracked and that the bulbs are securely in place.  In addition, be sure that the plugs are in good condition and the prongs are not loose or broken.  Be careful using extension cords.  If you are hanging exterior lighting and you need an extension, be sure to use an extension approved for exterior use.  Do not use an interior extension cord with exterior lighting as they are typically not weather proof.  Rainwater entering the connection can easily cause a short circuit.  Keep an eye on timers and automatic switches to make sure that they turn on and off at the appropriate times.  Just some food for thought…

Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday season.

Holiday Greetings

R. J Hill Consulting would like to wish you and yours

Happy Holidays !

I Don't Work That Way!

There have been times when an assignment is received and the client makes known that it wants a certain outcome.  Simply put, the client wants to subrogate against a third party in order to recover its losses.  It is understood that subrogation is in the best interests of the client when the action is justified.  That is, when a product is proven to cause personal injury or property damage, then the insurance carrier should have the right to recover the monetary amount paid to their insured, from the manufacturer.  However, there are times when subrogation is not always possible.  As an example, consider the loss of a building in a fire.  It is suspected that the fire was caused by an electrical malfunction.  The insurance carrier has to indemnify the building owner but doesn’t care who is held responsible as long as some party is identified.  This is where I will NOT work toward accusing any party of wrongdoing unless I have the evidence to do so.  I will not distort facts in favor of a client or create a bias where there is none so that the client can have a favorable position in a subrogation suit.  I believe that all information should be considered.  If that information is contrary to the client’s position, then so be it.  No individual or commercial entity should be treated unfairly.  Let the facts speak for themselves.  If the situation is such that the evidence indicates criminal activity, then my job ends (because I and most engineering investigation companies), do not have any legal authority) and law enforcement begins.   

What Every Property Adjuster Should Know About …

Fire Investigations:

  1. Fire investigations are governed by NFPA 921, published by the National Fire Protection Association.  NFPA 921 is a guide for use by investigators and is not a legal document.
  2. Fire Investigators are certified as Certified Fire Investigators (CFI) or Certified Fire and Explosion Investigators (CFEI).
  3. In the state of Tennessee, fire investigators are also required to be licensed by the state as private investigators.  If necessary, check your state to see if additional licenses are required.
  4. Fire investigation of a structure (or vehicle) is the responsibility of the law enforcement authorities.  Only after the authorities have released “the scene” can a civil investigation proceed.
  5.  Acceptable conclusions for the cause of a fire include intentional, accidental, and undetermined.
  6. There are times when the cause and origin of a fire are not as important as determining if your insured can be implicated in the cause.  Situations do arise where several parties are affected by a massive fire.  Although the cause and origin might not be determinable, it is prudent to determine if the insured can be held culpable.  Sometimes it’s about whether a product is under warranty or who did the work.  These scenarios assume that a fire cannot be attributed to arson or vandalism.
  7. Evidence must be handled carefully.  All parties identified in connection with a fire investigation have to be given notice and allowed to participate in any examination of evidence taken from a fire scene.

The pictures below serve to illustrate some of the investigations that we have been involved with.

Fire Damaged marina, several boats involved, cause and origin undetermined, insured boat owner eliminated as potentially culpable party

Paper Shredder thought to have been the cause and origin of a residential fire due to poor maintenance

Dryer Fire due to accumulation of lint

Fire in senior living center due to electrical short in room A/C unit

Residential structure explosion due to broken gas line

Residential structure fire due to misuse of stove

Defective Products

  1. A defective product is one which is unreasonably dangerous and cannot be used for its intended purpose.
  2. The test for a defective product is that it had to have had the defect at the time it left the possession of the manufacturer.
  3. Not only can be manufacturer be held liable for manufacturing a defective product but, anyone in the distribution/handling chain can also be held liable.
  4. Many times, a recall search can identify a recalled product. The Consumer Product Safety Commission maintains a website and database that lists products that have been identified as hazardous to consumers and recalled. The CPSC website address is http://www.cpsc.gov.
  5. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also maintains a website and database that has identified defective cars and trucks. Their website is located at http://www.nhtsa.gov. The NHTSA is searchable by vehicle make and year model as well as vehicle identification number.
  6. When products have been recalled, investigation of defective products cases becomes a much simpler matter because most of the work has already been done. However, when a product has not been recalled, then the investigator must determine if the product meets the criteria given in #1 and 2 above.

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