Spontaneous combustion guts South Carolina new home

A fire occurred in a Greenville, S.C. new home that was under construction and nearly complete. Stutman Law’s insured was acting as the builder and the homeowner was acting as the general contractor on the project. The fire caused several hundred thousand dollars in insured losses as well as a substantial uninsured loss to the homeowners.

The homeowners hired a contractor to do the faux finish and staining work at the property. The contractor had completed its work the day prior to the fire’s discovery and took the position that the fire could not have been caused by its work. The testimony from the contractor was that it had cleaned up all of its work areas, secured the home and left the previous day. The defendant also claimed that despite the manufacturer’s warning, the materials it used were incapable of spontaneous combustion.

During the course of discovery, Stutman Law learned that the contractor did not properly train its employees and failed to follow the manufacturer’s recommendation of proper clean-up of soiled rags. Initially, the employees told the fire officials that they had stacked stain soaked rags in piles so they could be used later in time. At the time of their depositions, the employees changed their testimony and testified that they only piled lightly used rags which could be reused in piles inside a five gallon plastic container.

During the fire investigator’s deposition, Stutman Law attorneys learned that although the fire marshal listed the cause of the fire as undetermined in his public report, he also completed a private report. His private report listed the cause of the fire as most probably the result of spontaneous combustion caused by improperly disposed of stain soaked rags. At his deposition, he agreed that was his opinion and amended his public report to reflect his conclusion.

By cross examining the contractors’ employees with inconsistent statements, and by eliminating any other potential causes of the fire, Stutman Law was able to build a strong circumstantial case against the defendant. Our cause and origin expert solidified our case during his deposition and the case settled shortly thereafter for $200,000 (approximately 75% of paid damages).

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