Ask An Expert is a question-and-answer column designed to address common questions related to forensic investigation and property damage. Each month we’ll feature one or two questions submitted by you – our readers and customers – and provide detailed, easy-to-understand answers. Email your questions to [email protected] or submit your questions here.
Is there a dollar amount that separates a large fire loss from a normal one?
John Hill, Regional Fire Manager: There are many ways to define a large loss depending on who you talk to. The answer is dependent upon the parameters of the insurance company that insures the property. What one company considers expensive may not be expensive to another company.
On a large loss fire claims, who is responsible for securing the scene?
A: The owner or the owner’s representative is generally responsible. Often the insurance company undertakes securing the scene if they intend to investigate.
Once it is determined the fire cause was arson, what responsibility do local and state authorities have to investigate and find the person setting the fire?
A: It’s dependent upon the agencies and laws of the state or area where the fire took place. We’ve seen fires that were obviously intentionally set, but the authorities decided not to investigate it for whatever reason. In some states, if a private investigation turns up evidence of a set fire, the insurance company conducting the investigation is required to report it to the authorities. Depending on the situation, they may conduct their own investigation, or they may not.
How often does a fire investigation create a subrogation opportunity where subrogation recovers money?
A: I was once told by a subrogation attorney with an international firm, that statistically, successful subrogation only takes place a small percentage of the time. There are many factors that dictate this outcome. The evidence has to be such that a conclusive fire cause ruling can be made. Of those instances, liability or negligence must be present to some degree. And of those instances, a defendant must be willing to settle, and/or a court must find in the favor of a plaintiff. However, especially on large losses, the potential for a successful recovery makes it worth a pursuing.
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About the Expert
Mr. John Hill joined Donan in 2008 and currently serves as regional fire manager for the firm’s Midwest region. Mr. Hill has worked in the following industries: fire department, automotive repair, insurance subrogation, and fire investigation. He is an IAAI Certified Fire Investigator, a Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator, and a Certified Vehicle Fire Investigator. Mr. Hill is also a Private Investigator in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee, and West Virginia. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Fire, Arson and Explosion Investigation from Eastern Kentucky University.