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Sources of Information to Aid in Liability Determination during Fire Suppression System Failure

fire sprinkler system

Determining Liability Associated with Fire Suppression Sprinkler Systems Failures

By Claims & Litigation Management Alliance

An incident involving a fire sprinkler system may result in damages to the structure which the system was supposed to protect. Damages may be water-related or fire-related. Regardless of the source of the damages, a thorough investigation is necessary in order to appropriately determine liability of responsible parties. 

Code Requirements

For any building or structure, there may be local, state, and even in some cases federal codes and regulations that dictate the proper installation and inspection, testing, and maintenance of a fire sprinkler system. Such local codes will often adopt national standards such as NFPA 13, NFPA 25, etc. An important consideration when determining what the local codes require include the specific edition of these standards which is adopted (represented by a year), and if any amendments to the standards were made by the authority having jurisdiction.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standards

Once the relevant standards have been identified by reviewing the local jurisdictions regulations, an investigator, attorney, or claims person can review the adopted standards as published by the NFPA. A detailed interpretation of these codes and standards can be provided by a fire protection engineering expert. Depending upon the nature of the loss, one or more NFPA standards may be relevant. For example, if the loss included a fire sprinkler system, it is likely best to consider both NFPA 13 and NFPA 25 requirements.

There is an important distinction regarding the applicability of NFPA standards, however. These documents are only enforceable when they are adopted by the local, state, or federal jurisdiction through law. In the event such standards were not specifically adopted by the local jurisdiction, they solely represent the unenforceable national industry standard.

The model fire codes issued by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) supply the prevailing national standards for purposes of section 11. The applicable NFPA code on alarm signaling, NFPA 72, establishes that a fire protection agency may designate any of three different types of supervisory entities to receive transmission signals from fire alarm devices: (1) the “central stations” of private alarm companies (like plaintiffs in this case); (2) a “remote supervising station” operated by a governmental agency (like the District’s preferred system); or (3) “proprietary supervising stations” (stations operated by the building owners themselves — an alternative that is not at issue in this case). See NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code §§ 26.1, 26.3-26.5 (2010 ed.). 

– See ADT Sec. Servs. v. Lisle-Woodridge Fire Prot. Dist., 672 F.3d 492, 500 (7th Cir. 2012).

Example NFPA Standards which may be relevant to a loss involving a fire sprinkler system include:

  • NFPA 13: Installation of Sprinkler Systems

  • NFPA 13R & 13D: Installation of Sprinklers in Residential Occupancies

  •  NFPA 14: Standard for Installation of Standpipe and Hose Systems

  • NFPA 15: Standard for Water Spray Fixed Systems for Fire Protection

  • NFPA 16: Standard for Installation of Foam-Water Sprinkler and Foam-Water

Spray Systems

  •  NFPA 24: Standard for the Installation of Private Fire Service Mains and their


  •  NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm & Signaling Code

  • NFPA 25: Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-based

Fire Protection Systems.

  • Interpretations and explanations of the interaction between these standards can be provided by a fire protection engineering expert.

Permitting Documents

When it comes to determining the installation standards relevant for a particular system, one must understand what the local jurisdictional requirements were at the time of the installation. This can sometimes be identified by referencing the building or installation permits for a fire sprinkler system which may be held by the building owner, or local jurisdiction’s building office, or the fire department. Sometimes, these building permits will outline specifically what installation standard and code requirements the installation must meet. Other times, this information is not specifically stated on the permit, and one must research the code in effect at the time of the permit application within the jurisdiction in order to determine the relevant requirements.

Design Documents & Plans

If the fire sprinkler system failure may be related to the original design and installation of the sprinkler system, original construction documents may shed light on who exactly was responsible for the failure. Some important design documents to consider requesting include:

  •  Initial Design Specifications

  • Initial Design Drawings

  • Shop Drawings

  • As-Built Drawings

  • Functional test reports

  • Written communications between responsible parties

  • Any other written documentation regarding the design, installation or construction of the system

Review of these documents may shed light on which entities knew of relevant design and installation flaws during the design stage.

Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance Records

NFPA 25 requires specific records be taken and maintained regarding the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of sprinkler systems. Such records document the date upon which work was done, any deficiencies that were observed, as well as the reported system water and/or air pressures, just to name a few.

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