Fire Protection Systems Training

Just completed a fire protection systems training program presented by Century Fire Protection. The presentation included discussion of such topics as wet and dry sprinkler systems; including pre-action, deluge and fire pump applications.  In addition to systems, the presentation included discussion of components for each system.  We also talked about the various valve types used such as post indication valves (PIV), wall post indication valves, outside stem and yoke (OSY), and check valves.  Furthermore, pumps and piping configurations were also reviewed.  Moreover, the various types of fire alarm system configurations such as voice evacuation, initiating devices and monitoring stations were also discussed.  Since fires are classified according to the material being burned, no presentation would be complete without a review of the types of fire extinguishers for classes A, B, C, D, and K type fires.  Lastly, owners responsibilities were also reviewed.  This last part was of particular interest since subrogation sometimes depends on establishing whether the owner is in any way at fault.

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Educating the public…

In the course of conducting forensic engineering investigations over many years, there is one thing that keeps coming up. That is, people will ask me why their carrier would send an engineer to investigate. It immediately became obvious (early in my forensic career) that policy holders were poorly educated about subrogation. Questions like “do they suspect me of doing something wrong?” and “are they trying to get out of paying the claim?” frequently arise. First let me say that we are engaged because of the way we have been educated and trained to think. In short, we are problem solvers which makes us ideal for figuring out how property damage and personal injuries might have occurred. Second and more importantly, engineers are looking for evidence of a defect in a product, regardless of whether that product is mechanical, electrical, or structural. The reason is because most policies have a clause in the contract that allows the insurance carrier to take possession of whatever evidence is available and litigate against a manufacturer in the name of the insured policy holder. The purpose of doing so is to recover whatever damages have been paid to the insured party. In most homeowners as well as auto and business policies, the carrier’s rights are “subrogated” to the insured’s rights meaning that if the carrier accepts a claim and pays for damages, their rights to recovery are behind the insured’s if the insured recovers anything. For example, let’s say that an insured property owner sues another party for damaging his home and the property owner’s carrier pays to have the house fixed. If the property owner sues and is awarded a judgment for a specified amount, his insurance carrier has a right to that judgment amount as stated in the subrogation clause of the insurance contact. However, defective products are not the only things that can trigger subrogation suits. Faulty work can also cause property damage and personal injury. If a mechanic performing an oil change on someone’s vehicle leaves the oil plug loose causing the new oil to drain and subsequently ruin the engine, he and the company he works for can be sued and held liable for the engine damage. Again, suit would be filed in the name of the auto policy holder and if awarded a judgment, the carrier would be entitled to the award if they spent money to have the engine repaired or replaced.

Having said all of the above, these are the reasons that the public needs to be educated on what prompts insurance carriers to engage engineers and why. The public needs to understand that part of the insurance business is holding those responsible for producing the faulty products and services that they sell.

Subrogating for the Sake of Subrogating

In the business of conducting forensic investigations, subrogation, at times, is part of the work.  Most property insurance policies contain a clause which allows for the insurer to assume the rights of the insured if the insurer pays for damages caused by a third party.  In other words, if you are injured or your property is damaged by a product or another person, your insurance company has the right to recover what it paid you by subrogating, or suing, the manufacturer of the product or other party that caused your injury or property damage.  This is a fairly common practice among property insurance companies, and rightly so.  In terms of products, there is a lot of garbage out there and the companies that produce faulty products should be held responsible.  But, other the other hand, what about responsible companies that produce products by incorporating a formal design process?  Should they be held responsible?  The answer is, at the very least, they are definitely scrutinized. Sometimes, they are held responsible and unfairly so. And it’s not just manufacturers; it can be service companies or anyone that is perceived to have been connected to the incident, no matter how remotely.  Here’s the deal: insurance companies don’t want to “get left holding the empty money bag”, they want their money back.  Not all insurance companies are bent on treating everyone unfairly for the sake of recovering their expenses.  But, there are a few and those of us that provide a service to the insurance industry have had an experience or two with them.  The kind of experience that I am referring to is the kind where the company’s opinion becomes the expert’s opinion before any work is ever done.  This is clearly wrong.  Expert firms, regardless of the type, whether engineering, fire investigation, public adjusting, accounting, etc, are supposed to be independent and unbiased.  However, there are expert firms in existence that will say whatever the insurance company wants them to say in order to get the assignment, and more importantly, collect the fee.  In the 25 years that I have been practicing in engineering forensics, I have learned that if you maintain your integrity, those “questionable” insurers will rarely engage your services, if at all.  Second, when you encounter an expert representing a “questionable” insurer, scrutiny of the insurer’s allegations and their expert’s report will usually reveal that the allegations are not reasonable and not based on a solid foundation.  Those of us that care about truth and fairness don’t really have to worry about those others too much.  Their tactics take care of them and the rest of us know it.                

Examination of 2005 Gulfstream RV

Earlier this year, a preliminary examination of a 2005 Gulfstreram RV was conducted. It was determined that the engine in this vehicle was subject to recall due to a defective fuel damper retainer clip (GM recall # 06080A). Because of the potential for subrogation against the parties that were involved in the manufacture of the vehicle, each party was notified and invited to attend a joint examination of the vehicle. The examination took place on July 27, 2010 at a local dealership. The examination of  the vehicle was conducted in strict accordance with accepted practicies regarding disassembly of the vehicle. That is, nothing was removed until all parties had arrived and were available to view to the process together. In other words, everyone saw everything at the same time. More specifically, when the fuel damper retainer clip was uncovered, everyone was able to see and document the condition of the clip. The retainer clip was found to have been broken and as the recall stated, most likely allowed fuel leakage to occur. For those unfamilar with the subrogation process and generally speaking, the representatives attending the exam will  prepare their reports (if necessary).  At some point in the near future, the major parties will come together and try to work out an acceptable settlement. If there is no agreement, then the case will have to be settled in court.

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