Spontaneous Combustion Fires Result in Over $7,000,000 in Recoveries

Spontaneous combustion fires seem illogical because they ignite without any apparent heat source, spark or flame. Moreover, they generally consume all physical evidence of fire causation and are therefore difficult to prove. Nonetheless, these fires can often be the source of large subrogation recoveries if investigated and litigated properly. In just the past three years, our attorneys have investigated and litigated spontaneous combustion fires in numerous states and have recovered over $7,000,000 from both contractors and product manufacturers.

In an effort to identify the cause of a fire, fire investigators typically seek to identify the physical remains of a competent ignition source, such as an arced wire or discarded smoking materials, within an area of fire origin. With spontaneous combustion fires, however, the remains of a competent ignition source is often never found because the ignition source is inextricably woven with the fire’s fuel source and ultimately consumed by the fire. For example, when a spontaneous combustion fire is caused by oil-soaked rags, the oil-soaked rags serve as both the fire’s ignition and fuel source. Consequently, the fuel (oil-soaked rags) which feeds the fire is consumed thereby destroying the remains of the ignition source (oil soaked rags). For this reason, it is critical to obtain circumstantial evidence immediately after the fire to establish that items susceptible to spontaneous combustion were present within the fire’s area of origin.

In terms of circumstantial evidence, witness statements and the collection of data regarding products used within the area of fire origin are absolutely critical. Witness statements are invaluable because the individuals who were last present within the area of origin will have key information regarding what products were used, when they were used and in what amounts. Needless to say, time is of the essence with such an investigation.

In one case in which our firm recovered over $2,000,000 on behalf of our client, we were able to purchase an unused can of the product which spontaneously combusted directly from the contractor who applied it to the hardwood floors at the building which caught fire. We subsequently proceeded with a warning theory against the manufacturer of the product and learned in litigation that the manufacturer had changed its warnings shortly before the fire. The product we purchased onsite had the old “defective” warnings. Therefore, we were able to successfully argue that we had enough circumstantial evidence to prove that the product actually used had the old warning. If our firm had not been onsite performing a loss scene investigation the day after the fire occurred, we would never have had an opportunity to obtain an exemplar of the product used and the case would have been lost.

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