How to investigate a customer’s loss (Part 3).

file0001847132607In Parts 1 and 2, I discussed inspecting the scene of your customer’s loss.  This post continues with additional sources of information to consider in your investigation, including information about using highly skilled experts to defend your company.  

In addition to the information you gather at the scene, there are other important sources of information you need to obtain.  You should request police and fire department reports, photographs, and 911 calls involving the incident from the responding authorities.  Also, if weather is suspected to have played a factor in the loss, you can find detailed weather and lightning strike reports online.  Finally, as appropriate, you can request building plans, permits, and inspection records from state and local government offices.

As for any potentially relevant information in your own possession, this is no time for spring cleaning.  Save all documents related to the alarm sale, installation, monitoring, and involved products.  Make sure your employees know this too.  Large companies send out a formal “legal records hold” informing employees of the lawsuit or claim and instructing them to save any relevant information.  Even if your company isn’t large, you should consider doing the same in writing.  This will ensure you have the documents you need in your defense, and protect against spoliation of evidence.

If you are investigating a claim that has yet to turn into a lawsuit, be mindful of your state’s statute of limitations for bringing a lawsuit when deciding how long to keep the documents, notes, etc. you have gathered.  Limitations periods vary widely from state-to-state and depend on the cause of action (e.g., negligence and breach of contract often have different limitation periods), but in general can be as little as one year or as long as ten years.  Plan to keep the information until the statute of limitations for any potential claim has expired.

Involve the Experts

As you know, alarm system design, installation, maintenance, and monitoring, and the products involved, are highly technical and specialized fields.  While your insurer largely calls the shots in hiring an attorney and experts to help with your defense, you should ask it to hire an attorney with experience in alarm system litigation and you should be familiar with the types of experts available in case your insurer is not.  Here are just a few of the circumstances where expertise is key:

Fire Cause and Origin Analysis.  It is not quite what you would see on CSI, but you might be surprised at what experts can do in fire cases.  A good fire cause and origin investigator can help to pinpoint just that—a fire’s cause and where it originated.  There are also sophisticated computer programs experts can use to model how a fire spread and how fire detection equipment should have responded based on the cause and origin expert’s data, the measurements and layout of the building and location of alarm equipment, and the fuel load (what burned).

Smoke Detector Operation.  There are experts who can look at the horn in a smoke detector to determine if the detector sounded in the presence of smoke, by the patterns left on the horn when it does so—called acoustic agglomeration.  This information can quickly dispel any claim that the smoke detector never sounded in the fire.

Downloading Alarm Panel Information.  As you are probably aware, many alarm control panels store in their memory a history of the alarm signals.  An expert will be able to help navigate the manufacturer’s protocol for downloading this information.  I have had several significant claims go away without litigation based on information we were able to download from the control panel.


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