Potential Dodge Ram 1500 Fire Hazard

Recently, we investigated how a gasoline spill could have caused damage to an asphalt driveway.  During the investigation, it was learned that the insured had purchased a 2020 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck, approximately one month before the spill occurred.  It was also learned that the insured was leaving his residence when he noticed gasoline on his garage floor and driveway.  The dealer was subsequently contacted and the vehicle repaired.  According to the dealer’s work order, a quick connect fitting in the fuel line had separated and had allowed fuel to spill on the floor.  The insured described the scene as a large spill, gallons of fuel that occurred in a very short time period, seconds.  Although this incident occurred without fire, the separation of the quick connect fitting crated an enormous fire hazard.  The only indication that the insured had of a potential problem was that the truck would not immediately start.  If you own a 2020 Dodge Ram 1500 and experience difficulty starting, STOP!  Get out of the truck, if you smell gasoline fumes or see a fuel spill, DO NOT attempt to move the vehicle.  Instead, get yourself and your passengers away from the vehicle.  If there is no fire, contact your dealer and advise them of the situation and request that they arrange for towing back to their location for repair.  If there is a fire, call 911.  As far as the asphalt driveway was concerned, the binding materials used in asphalt will absorb gasoline and as a result, weaken the bond between the binder and the asphalt.  The end result will be a surface that will not withstand vehicular loads, it will eventually crack and break.          

Hints That you Might Have a Subrogation Case

Anytime that the failure of a product causes personal injury or property damage, there is a possibility that an insurance carrier could recoup its expenditures from the manufacturer, installer or servicer.  However, not all product failures result in grounds for subrogation claims.  Sometimes products “wear out” and when they do, it can be due to the expiration of the useful life of the product.  Case in point: water heaters.  Depending on who you talk to, the useful life of a residential water heater can be anywhere between five and ten years.  Then there are those more expensive models that can last between 10 and 15 years.  The life of a product has to be taken into consideration, usually during the investigation phase, so as to make sure that the subrogation case will not be summarily dismissed if the case goes to court.  In the case of fires, both structural and vehicular, where the cause was electrical or mechanical malfunction; the key here is whether the equipment was recently installed or serviced by an outside service company or individual.  In the case of existing equipment, the question of maintenance will arise and become a key piece of information.  If the equipment has been allowed to go unmaintained, then it might be possible for a manufacturer or installer to argue that the operating condition of the equipment was beyond their control and they cannot be held liable.   The same thing applies to situations involving water damage.  Water damage can occur from leaking refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, and any other piece of equipment that uses water in the process. 

There are also situations that arise where subrogation is not so obvious.  Assuming that an employer is operating a safe workplace, on the job injuries can be caused by the operation of equipment that is not properly guarded.  OSHA regulations are in effect that prohibit the operation of rotating or moving equipment without proper guarding.  Such equipment includes, conveyors, wire drawing machines, drill presses, milling machines, and stamping machines.  In many instances, rotating equipment is operated with the use of pulleys or flywheels.  These components have to be matched to the rotational speed of the machine.  If the machine is operated at a speed greater than the rated speed of the flywheel, then it is possible for the flywheel to fail.  If the flywheel fails under normal loading and within its expected life, then subrogation is possible.  However, if someone in the plant has increased the rotational speed of operation beyond load limits, then subrogation is most likely not possible.  It should be noted that many smaller pulleys are adjustable and as a consequence, rotational speed can be increased to a dangerous level.  In addition failures from hydraulic hoses can occur where the operator is sprayed with hot oil.  If the hose is routinely replaced as a maintenance item but, fails during its service lifetime, then it can be argued that the hose was defective and likely warrants a subrogation claim against the manufacturer.  Similarly, pressure vessels can EXPLODE and cause property damage and serious injury.  Vessels containing air, water, oil, or any other fluid under PRESSURE must be certified for the service.  If the vessel failed during its expected life, was not over-pressurized, maintained by minimizing corrosion, and inspected on a regular basis; then, subrogation against the manufacturer is a possibility.  However, if the vessel was manufactured in house, by the insured, then any injured employees might have a design defect claim against the employer.               

Riding Lawn Mower Fire

We’re still in the middle of summer and right in the middle of lawn mowing season.  Everyone knows that lawn mowing is a necessary chore that has to be done.  Along with mowing the lawn comes keeping the lawn mower in good condition.  It’s very easy to neglect the mower once the mowing is done and not give a second thought to maintaining your mower.  So, what else is there besides changing the oil and replacing the blade every couple of years?  The answer is keeping the mower clean.  The grass clippings that accumulate on just about every surface of a mower can dry and become combustible.  But, nobody thinks about the possibility of a fire occurring after they’ve just finished cutting their grass.  The pictures below show what can happen to a riding lawn mower when it is not properly cleaned after each use.  This particular machine was stored in a warehouse when it ignited.  Luckily, the fire set off the sprinkler system and extinguished the fire before any real damage occurred.    

Riding mower engine fire caused by lack of maintenance
Dry/combustible grass debris observed on deck of riding mower

We know that the machine was not cleaned prior to storing because a similar machine was stored beside the one that ignited and also had dry grass clippings and on it.  The second mower is shown below. Fires are not limited to riding mowers. They can also occur in engine driven push mowers and large commercial machines. Keeping your mower clean is very simple to do. You can use a brush or an air blower. If your machine is equipped with a hose connection, you can wash away the debris. It really doesn’t matter what you use as long as you keep your mower clean.

Dry/combustible grass debris observed on deck of second mower

Not the Way to Mount Running Boards to your Truck!

Running Boards are very popular and offer to convenient way to enter and leave a truck for those who have a hard time getting in and out.  Running boards come in various styles and are usually equipped with brackets that are intended to be bolted to the truck underbody.  However, when the underbody is corroded or the condition of the metal that will hold the running board is questionable, then caution should be exercised in deciding whether and how to mount the boards.  When bolts can’t be used, welding the bracket to the underbody can be an alternative.  In doing so, care must be taken not to set the vehicle on fire!  Carpeting is usually present at the edge of the floorboard adjacent to the doors.  When welding the brackets, the heat from the weld is conducted through the metal to the carpet (and wiring if present) creating a perfect condition for a vehicle fire.  The photographs shown below illustrate how a fire originated in a 1997 Ford F 250 when one of the passenger side running board brackets was welded to the underbody.  Precautions must be taken before welding to prevent damage to the vehicle.  If bolts cannot be used because of questionable metal strength, then welding is probably not a good idea either.    

Fire origin at floorboard and damage to passenger door
View of underbody beneath area of fire origin, note bracket weld location

Combustible Hoverboards Still Out There

Back in 2016, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled thousands of hoverboards due to a problem with lithium ion batteries.  The batteries would short circuit and cause the hoverboards to ignite.  Because most of the brands used cheap materials and were made overseas, the market pretty much disappeared overnight.  However, hoverboards that have some age on them are still in use.  Recently, one was encountered in the investigation of an apartment fire.  The condition of the hoverboard is shown below.  Spontaneous ignition of the hoverboard was determined to have been the cause of the fire.  More specifically, the lithium ion batteries  appeared to have self-short-circuited resulting in excessive heat buildup (thermal runaway) that ultimately led to the ignition of the product.  If you have an older product, it is recommended that you replace the batteries with batteries or a battery pack certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).  Make sure that the batteries or battery pack has been tested according to UL standard 1642 or 2054.  The product should carry a label showing what standard has been met.   For new products made this year, 2020, the product should have been tested according to UL standard 2272.  Look for a label on the product indicating that the product has been certified accordingly.       

Coronavirus Protections

            While the world in general, and our country in particular, is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, the world of insurance claims investigations is also trying to keep working.  R.J. Hill Consulting is following the recommended social distancing guideline of maintaining at least six feet from another person.  If appropriate, statements can be obtained by phone thereby preventing unnecessary personal contact.  N95 masks are also worn when contact with another person might occur.  Lastly, while latex gloves are not worn in every instance, gloves are available and will be worn as a precautionary measure in certain cases.        

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.

Brake and Battery Issues Prompt GM to Recall Trucks

General Motors has recalled approximately 464,000 Cadillac CT6, Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 trucks, all 2019 model year vehicles.  GM has discovered that a software error can disable the electronic stability and antilock braking systems.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), dealers are supposed start repairing recalled vehicles on January 27, 2020.  The repair will consist of reprogramming the antilock brake computer.  GM has also recalled 350,000 model years 2019 and 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 pickup trucks.  The problem with these vehicles is that the cable that goes from the battery to the alternator has too much glue in it.  As a result, the glue imposes a resistance to the flow of current and can cause the engine to stall, and possibly ignite.  This recall is also expected to begin on January 27, 2020.  Dealers are supposed to inspect the cables and clean the connections if necessary.  For additional information, owners can contact GM by visiting their website at www.gm.com, then scrolling to the bottom of the page and click on recalls.   Please have your vehicle identification number ready as you will be prompted to enter it to see if your vehicle is affected. 

Ford Recalls Super Duty Trucks

Ford Recalls Super Duty Trucks

The Ford Motor Company is recalling approximately 500,000 Super Duty trucks due to a concern that sparks from a seat belt pretensioner can start a fire.  The seat belt pretensioner deploys when a crash occurs.  Upon impact, the pretensioner is engaged and begins to emit sparks.  The sparks can then ignite carpet and carpet insulation in the area of the side roof pillar, also known as the “B” pillar.  If ignition occurs, the risk of injury can increase depending on the condition of the vehicle occupants.  This recall applies to F 250, F 350, F 450, and F 550 Super Duty, Super Crew vehicles built at Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant between October 8, 2015 and October 29, 2019.  “Super Crew” refers to those affected vehicles that have four full-sized doors.  Dealers will apply foil tape to the carpet and carpet insulation and modify the sound deadener on the backside of the “B” pillar trim panel at no cost to owners.  For additional information, owners can contact Ford by calling 1-800-392-3673 and referencing recall number 19S52.  Owners can also go to NHTSA’s website and enter their vehicle identification number to determine if their vehicle is recalled.  If no recall appears, then the vehicle is NOT recalled.

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