This article is a companion piece to this video

In this special episode of RG’s On Subrogation series, Subro-Live! – Cinder the Fire-Investigating Dog, subrogation lawyer Rebecca Wright speaks with Steven Chapman of S.C. Fire Consulting, Inc.: a consulting firm that performs investigations for insurance subrogation in cases of fire loss. Specifically, Steven shows Rebecca his firm’s secret weapon: Cinder, the fire-investigating dog. 

How could a dog possible help in something as tricky as the subrogation investigation and litigation process for losses due to fire damage? Steven explains, and even gives Rebecca a demonstration of how Cinder’s skills help his firm to determine or rule out possible causes of fires.

Cinder’s Role in Identifying or Ruling out the Cause of a Fire

Depending on the extent of the fire damage, how a fire starts and spreads can be difficult to determine. And if you can’t determine the cause of a fire, it subsequently makes identifying any responsible parties problematic. It would be nearly impossible to prove tortious behavior by an outside party if the body of evidence from your initial subrogation investigation could not even prove the cause of the fire.

Cinder has been trained to identify the presence of accelerants after a fire. When she smells an accelerant, she alerts her colleagues by sitting and pointing her nose at the spot. The fire consultants drop a marker in the area and later take samples that are sent to a lab for testing. 

Why is this important for building your case for subrogation against a tortious party? The presence of accelerants at the site of fire property damage can indicate several things:

  • Heat rises; fires damage upper walls and ceilings more so than floors. If most of the fire damage is low, this can imply the presence of accelerant.
  • Lines of residue suggest the accelerant was poured to purposefully spread the fire quickly.
  • Accelerant in multiple places suggests several sites of ignition, which is simply inconsistent with an accidental fire.
  • Cracked floors and narrow, wandering lines of fire damage signal the fire was following the small places only liquid can drip into.

The presence of any of these conditions can indicate accelerant use, but rarely does enough to bolster a subrogation claim for property damage. That is where Cinder’s skills shine; canines have an exponentially higher ability to detect smells. Locating accelerant remnants and proving there was, in fact, accelerant at the site via lab testing can make a previously questionable case for property damage subrogation solid. 

After a large fire, humans are not able to smell a spent accelerant; most of the time, they have to rely on sight. Cinder gives the investigators at S.C. Fire Consulting the leading edge -over firms that don’t use fire-investigating dogs; a report that correctly identifies or rules out accelerant as the cause of a fire is better for a subrogation lawyer arguing a case than a report that couldn’t.

Other Types of Fire Damage Subrogation: Tortious Negligence by Utility Companies

Fire damage is not always caused purposefully or by accelerant, but that does not mean there is no case for pursuing recovery via subrogation. Often, cases of fire property damage can be linked to negligence on the part of a utility company. For more information on utility subrogation claims for fire damage, visit our Claims Involving Utilities page. 

And for more interesting informational material on subrogation topics that are important to you, Rathbone Group’s subrogation video and podcast series, On Subrogation, breaks down subjects in insurance and subrogation law in easy-to-understand ways.