The Importance of the Product Defense Attorney at a Fire Scene

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Part 1 – Preparation

The attendance of a product defense attorney at a fire scene can greatly assist in the defense of a fire loss. Of course, that benefit is only fully realized when an attorney is sufficiently prepared and takes a proactive role when at the scene. If a client chooses to send an attorney to a fire scene, the attorney should make the most of that opportunity and gather as much information as possible to assist in the case. This series of blog posts will expound on the importance of preparation prior to a scene exam, attendance at the scene exam, and post-scene exam activities.

Immediately upon receiving notice of a fire loss, contact the opposing party. Gather as much preliminary information as possible and confirm that the scene is properly preserved. Are there any witness statements? Gather all information on how the fire was discovered. When was the product last used? What is the history of use of the product? Request photographs and information on the area of origin. If there are any photographs from the fire department or the claimant’s experts, request those as well. The public official photographs can assist in determining whether any portion of the scene was altered prior to the scene exam.

Next, ask a series of questions regarding identification of the product or other products possibly involved. Is your client’s product the only product on notice? If not, are all other products on notice? How was the product identified? These questions are imperative; nothing is more frustrating than getting to a scene only to realize that the product has been misidentified or was located nowhere near the area of origin. In some cases, the claimant already has an idea of the size of the loss. Request their reserve information and inform your client the approximate value of the damage.

Prior to attendance at the exam, educate yourself on the product. Obtain a few exemplars to examine yourself and send to any experts retained to attend the scene exam. Discuss the specific product with your client to get a better understanding of its internal workings and whether or not the product has a claim history. In many cases, products are severely fire damaged and identification is difficult. Many product manufacturers have date and factory codes located in places less likely to be consumed by fire (i.e. the plug blades). Identify any markings unique to the specific product involved to assist in identification.

Lastly, familiarize yourself with NFPA 921. Every fire scene should be conducted in accordance with NFPA 921. NFPA 921 provides a better understanding of what things you should look for at a fire scene. Based on that understanding, you will be able to determine what type of expert(s) you will need at a fire scene. Use this knowledge to determine if a cause and origin investigator, an electrical engineer, and/or an in-house product expert is needed. Once you have retained the proper experts, forward copies of any photographs, fire reports, expert reports or witness statements for their review.

Look for the next entry in this blog series: Part 2 – Attendance at the Fire Scene.

 


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