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Potentially-liable Parties of Fire Suppression System Failure and their Responsibilities


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.

A fire sprinkler system is a complex system which was likely designed, installed, and maintained by various parties. As such, each party should be considered for their possible contribution to liability for the subject claim.

System Design Engineer

The system design engineer is typically responsible for providing the initial design and specifications of the system. Depending on the specific project, the design engineer may simply outline the performance requirements for the system, and define (via specification documents) the installation requirements, or he may create design drawings of the entire system. Oftentimes, the design specifications will reference NFPA standards for the installer to follow when constructing the system, even if they are not specifically adopted by the local jurisdiction.

System Installer

The system installer is responsible for performing the installation in accordance with the design drawings and specifications outlined by the design engineer. In the event the design engineer provided only performance-based requirements, the installer may also prepare the specific system installation drawings, referred to as “shop drawings”, and submit those to the design engineer for review and approval. Once the “shop drawings” are approved, the installer should install the piping in accordance with the drawings, and the design specifications.

Building Owner

The building owner holds substantial responsibility for ensuring their system remain operationally ready. These requirements are outlined in NFPA 25, and specifically put the responsibility on the building owner. However, there are options under NFPA 25 for the building owner to hire a qualified contractor to perform the owner’s duties for them. The specific contracts between the owner and his qualified contractor, coupled with an understanding of the requirements of NFPA 25, may shed light on specifically which party is responsible for which required services. 

NFPA 25 places the responsibility for inspecting, testing, and maintaining wet sprinkler systems on the owner of the property. NFPA 25 4.1.1. This responsibility can be delegated through “specific provisions” NFPA 25 Furthermore, NFPA 25 provides inspections shall be performed by those who have “developed competence through training and experience.” NFPA 25

See Mid-Century Ins. Co. v. Insulvail, LLC, 592 F. App’x 677, 685 n.16 (10th Cir. 2014).

Inspection, Testing & Maintenance Contractor

An Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance (ITM) contractor may service a building under contract with the building owner. This ITM contractor should be competent in ITM services, and likely outlined his responsibility in a written contract or agreement with the building owner. The ITM contractor is responsible for notifying the building owner in the event they identify any deficiencies in the system that require attention, and may correct the deficiencies if asked to do so by the owner.

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