The Importance of the Product Defense Attorney at the Fire Scene: Part Three

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Part 3 – Attendance at the Fire Scene: Investigation of the Area of Origin and Scene Wrap-Up

The attendance of a product defense attorney at the 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.

You have now completed your initial investigation of the surrounding areas. Now it is time to make your way inside. Try to stay out of the way of the experts. Examine the scene and compare to the facts provided to you by the investigators. Look in all rooms of the structure – are there any cigarette or drug paraphernalia? How about candles or incense? Are there any pets in the house? Make notes and take photographs of all the rooms and all your observations. Something that does not seem particularly relevant at the time, may turn out to have significance relevance later in the investigation.

After examination of the rest of the structure, you can make your way to the area of origin. If there are official investigators presents, such as the local fire department, ask them why they put the origin at the location. If all the experts agree on the area of origin, this will likely be where the everyone spends the majority of their time. Depending on the number of parties at the exam, you may be able to sneak in and make some observations. Based upon your viewing of the area, what appears to have caused the fire? Sometimes it is obvious. What products were plugged in the area? Take photographs and document all of your observations. If you observe something that you believe is particularly important, make sure to point it out to your expert and have him/her take photographs of it. If the case gets to litigation, and eventually trial, you want that evidence to be easily presentable to a jury.

After observing the entire structure and the area of origin, create a diagram for yourself. Put as much information on that diagram as possible, i.e. location of products, furniture, doors, outlets, and anything else of note in the structure. Try to determine what was plugged in and where it was plugged in. Make note of all the collected evidence. Diagrams are useful in depositions if the claim proceeds to litigation.

After completion of the scene exam, you should meet with your expert. Get his/her opinion on the area of origin and the evidence. Have him/her show you the burn patterns and explain all the observations that stem from those patterns. Also inquire as to any observations of the products in the area of origin. Were there any clear evidence of failure in any of the products? If you attend the scene exam with an in-house product expert, often that person can spot a failure in his/her company’s product.

Look for the next installment of this series: Part 4 – Post Scene Exam Defense Planning



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