This month's ABA journal has a very interesting article about our knowledge regarding arson investigation has changed over years, and the exoneration of people wrongly convicted of criminal arson.  It is well worth the read.

This topic brings to the forefront a related issue: the investigation of cause and origin of fires in insurance cases.  The denial of a fire claim based on the determination that it is an incendiary fires will often result in a bad faith lawsuit.  Thus, the hiring of a fire investigator is a key decision by the adjuster.  Before hiring a fire investigator, be sure to keep the following things in mind:  

  • First and foremost, make sure his or her experience is sufficient.  Request a CV and make sure that his or her experience is in fire investigation, not simply fire suppression.  More and more, investigators should meet the requirements in NFPA 1033: Standard for Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigator;
  • Be sure he or she is knowledgeable on NFPA 921: Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations.  This publication has been at the heart of many cross-examinations of fire investigators;
  •  If possible, see if he or she has the ability to present complicated explanations in a simple matter.  For instance, it is common for a fire investigator to explain that a fire needs oxygen by securing the lid on a lighted candle jar.  Often, if your fire investigator trains other investigators, he or she will be a better witness, if it is eventually needed; and
  • If possible, review a sample report from investigators you think you may want to hire in the future.    Be sure the report is clear; it shows methodology; and reflects the effort it takes to do a good examination.  By vetting investigators ahead of time, there will be little delay to initiate the fire investigation. 

The cause and origin expert is a central figure in  a fire investigation.  His or her opinion will help determine whether fire damage is covered by the policy.  If the claim is denied based on his or her opinion, the investigator will be one of the key witnesses in a potential bad faith lawsuit.