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Family Dreams Can Go Up in Smoke

For any of us that have walked into our home to discover that they have been robbed, the feeling is devastating. Take that feeling and multiply it by a hundred times and it doesn’t begin to compare to the feeling you get when your house is destroyed by a fire. These are the times that you would hope that friends and family would be there for you; to console, to help to support. Most importantly, these are the time times that you would assume your insurance company would be there to protect you. After years of paying your premium, this may be the one time you look towards them to get through this difficult situation. Sometimes they do; sometimes they swoop in and make this experience manageable. However, oftentimes they don’t.

After any fire an investigation is conducted to determine the cause of the fire. The fire department may call in the sheriff’s office to perform an investigation into how and why the fire occurred. In these situations sometimes they can determine that the fire was caused by natural causes such as lightning or even accidental (when the fire was started by accident but no one intended for it), as in the case of a terrible grease fire gone out of control. Sometimes, the cause of the fire may be left undetermined when they are not able to pinpoint how or why the fire occurred. In some situations, the evidence may even reveal that the cause of the fire was arson; that the fire was started with intent to do damage.

Imagine that your house when up in flames and all you are told by your insurance company is that the cause of the fire is undetermined. Not only has your house been destroyed along with most every possession you own but no one can tell you why. This actually happens more than you may know. The sheriff’s office has limited resources so they cannot allocate extensive time, money or manpower to every case, particularly in cases where investigators do not believe the cause to be incendiary in nature. A lack of resources does not permit investigators to test your entire house, so the cause of the fire may be left as “undetermined”. Imagine yourself dealing with this situation, but it gets worse. Your insurance company gets wind of this information and seizes the opportunity to get out of paying a claim. What happens next could leave you speechless. The insurance carrier may then hire a fire investigation company to conduct their own investigation and opinion for the insurance company to support their decision not to pay on.

The insurance carriers typically hire a company that they refer a lot of business to. Not only do they hire them often but they also tell the investigators certain things like “this person was two months behind on the mortgage” or “this person had mold damage inside the house”. Instead of asking them to perform a truly independent fire investigation they are already telling them facts that insinuate that there is a motive for the homeowner. Not only is this wrong, it goes against the standards that the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) have published in the Fire & Explosion Investigations Guide. This is a guide that every fire investigator is supposed to be familiar with and utilize. The investigation and analysis of any fire-related incident is a complex scientific endeavor. The methodology of such an endeavor, therefore, must include the comprehensive, objective, and accurate compilation and analysis of the available data. Starting with the conclusion that someone had a reason to start a fire compromises the entire investigation.

These attempts to establish motive and opportunity are in direct violation of the prescriptions and proscriptions of NFPA 921. NFPA 921 – Guide to Fire and Explosion Investigation, strongly cautions against the attempt to establish a conclusion before conducting a fire investigation.

4.3.7 Avoid Presumption. Until data have been collected, no specific hypothesis can bebreasonably formed or tested. All investigations of fire and explosion incidents should be approached by the investigator without presumption as to origin, ignition sequence, cause, fire spread, or responsibility for the incident until the use of scientific method has yielded testable hypotheses, which cannot be disproved by rigorous testing.

What they are saying is use the scientific method first to determine how the fire was started. It is human nature to try to find what it is we expect to find. Especially when the people asking you to make the determination are telling you before you have started your investigation that they are hoping for a certain conclusion.

NFPA 921

Chapter 4 – Basic Methodology, explains the dangers of expectation bias in detail:

4.3.8 Expectation Bias. Expectation bias is a well-established phenomenon that occurs in scientific analysis when investigator(s) reach a premature conclusion without having examined or considered all of the relevant data. Instead of collecting and examining all of the data in a logical and unbiased manner to reach a scientifically reliable conclusion, the investigator(s) uses the premature determination to dictate investigative processes, analyses, and, ultimately, conclusions, in a way that is not scientifically valid. The introduction of expectation bias into the investigation results in the use of only that data that supports this previously formed conclusion and often results in the misinterpretation and/or the discarding of data that does not support the original opinion. Investigators are strongly cautioned to avoid expectation bias through proper use of the scientific method.

Unfortunately, you may find yourself in a situation that your own insurance company is denying your claim and essentially calling you an arsonist. As sad as this sounds, it’s more common than you are probably aware of.

So what should you do if you find yourself in this predicament? There is not much you can do except meet the insurance company with a fierce resistance. These types of cases are referred to as first party insurance claims. You must take your insurance company to court for not holding up their end of a contractual relationship. Even though you were not prosecuted for any type of crime you will be forced to prove that you had nothing to do with the fire.

Attorneys that handle these types of cases must have the resources to pre-pay a variety of costs associated with a proper and comprehensive investigation. Hiring the best experts possible to really find out what happened in the fire is the key. Most times, these experts will confirm that improper testing conducted solely to support the insurance carrier has occurred. A reasonable person will conclude that the insurance companies pay for self-serving opinions to get out of paying a claim.

If you or a loved one has suffered a tragic loss and destruction of property, Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA will zealously represent your interests. Call me if you want to discuss your matter and what your rights may be. I’m available by phone, 727-451-6900 or via email, [email protected]