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Case Strategic Approaches during Fire Suppression System Failure

fire suppression checklist

Determining Liability Associated with Fire Suppression Sprinkler Systems Failures

By Claims & Litigation Management Alliance

The fire suppression industry has experienced a number of recent changes, including an increased need for suppression in varying situations– from wildfires, to installation of commercial suppression systems, there is great demand for fire suppression services.

With this growth comes increased risks— it’s important to make sure you are protecting your business and your employees from potential threats.  Central Insurance Agency is prepared to provide you with a custom insurance solution to fit your needs.

Use of Experts

It is of critical importance to identify the appropriate experts for a given loss and coordinate their retention as early in the process as possible. When notified of a loss involving a fire protection system, it should be immediately recognized that a Fire Protection Engineering expert may be able to provide substantial value to the case assessment. In the event the incident also involves a fire (e.g. non-operation of the system), an Origin & Cause Expert may be added to the expert team.

If you are a downstream party defending subrogation, it is a good strategy to retain your own Fire Investigator and Fire Protection Engineer in order to gather your own independent evaluation so as to support your defense or to know that you are a target party and attempt early and cost effective resolution. You can also identify further downstream parties early in the handling of the case to place them on notice as well.

Expert purportedly followed standards set forth by the National Fire Protection Association in its publication NFPA 921: Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations (1998). This guide qualifies as a reliable method endorsed by a professional organization.

  • See Fireman’s Fund Ins. Co. v. Canon U.S.A., Inc., 394 F.3d 1054, 1057-58 (8th Cir. 2005).

Preservation of Evidence

The purpose of evidence preservation is to support all appropriate subrogation arguments so that all parties have equal access to the evidence. It is imperative to establish a secured site so that all parties tendered to will have a chance to review the scene and evaluate the damaged properties to the best of their abilities, and to support your damage proofs when pursuing subrogation by transparent evaluation from all parties. If you are a “downstream” party defending a subrogation claim, it is imperative that you evaluate all potential arguments in your defense and that you establish a well-documented chain of custody for any pieces of evidence or equipment removed from a scene.

It is valuable to have a Fire Protection Engineering Expert get an opportunity to inspect and document the scene system prior to any system modifications. This may be in addition to a fire Origin & Cause investigator if the loss also included a fire event. Sometimes, getting such an inspection can be difficult, given the Authority Having Jurisdiction’s requirements to place the system back in service as soon as possible. Under such a situation, assigning a Fire Protection Engineer and getting them to the site immediately to document the system as-is can help prevent later claims related to spoliation of evidence.

A litigant is under a duty to preserve evidence which it knows or reasonably should know

is relevant to the action. That duty arises as soon as a potential claim is identified.

Documentary Evidence

It is critical to obtain all available documents from your client/insured as soon as possible. In many cases, it may be years after a loss before discovery demands from opposing parties may be made leading to situations where the documents necessary are no longer available. The collection and preservation of documents related to installation, inspections and maintenance of the fire suppression system should be gathered and preserved to prevent spoliation of the evidence.


All potential witnesses should be contacted and interviewed. Personal contact information should be gathered under the assumption that employees may not be working for your client at a later date. Signed statements should be obtained from any critical witness as soon as possible while their recollection is still fresh and to guard against their future unavailability. In addition to eye-witnesses of the incident itself, you should also consider adding the building manager and maintenance personnel as well as the party responsible for ITM of the system to your list of individuals to interview.

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