If you are a tenant and have a claim against your landlord for a fire, the fire investigation and evidence preservation are critical parts of the case. While many firefighters understand the basics of evidence preservation and will work to preserve the scene to a degree, their primary focus is on fire suppression and ruling out arson. An independent comprehensive fire investigation should often be conducted to determine the cause and origin of a fire with more specificity.
First, the fire investigation team must preserve evidence at the scene. This information is vital to understanding what happened and could be an essential part of a lawsuit. Learn more about fire investigations below, and speak to our California landlord-tenant attorneys if you need help with a claim.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) offers extensive guidance for fire investigations. Following NFPA guidelines is critical to the investigation and a lawsuit. It also offers a strong foundation for fire investigators whose views on the fire could be challenged in litigation.
Fire investigators conduct their investigations within the NFPA 921 guidelines using a systematic approach to inspecting and documenting fire scenes. Investigators carefully study burn patterns, gather and preserve evidence, and document the fire scene. Independent fire investigators also perform comprehensive fire scene investigations, submit reports, and may offer expert testimony in a tenant lawsuit.
Additionally, fire scene investigators often reconstruct, as much as possible, the original condition of the structure, appliances, equipment, and vehicles. This allows them to determine how and where the fire started and understand what could have been altered, removed, or destroyed from the scene before the investigation started.
One of the investigator’s key roles is identifying and handling physical evidence. NFPA 921, Section 17.2.1 states that physical evidence is a tangible or physical item that may prove or disprove a fact or issue. Fire scene physical evidence can be critical to understanding the cause, origin, spread, and the person responsible for the incident.
Physical evidence could be smoke alarms, appliances, sprinkler systems, furniture, portions of burned structures, and machinery. This evidence could show charring or burn patterns that help investigators determine the origin and cause of the fire, which may or may not support a tenant lawsuit related to the fire. It is up to the investigator to decide which evidence must be gathered from the scene.
After fire investigators collect evidence, the next step is to preserve it. NFPA 921, Section 18.104.22.168 states that the responsibility for preserving evidence is with the police, firefighters, and fire investigators. However, improper evidence preservation by first responders and scene contamination could lead to the destruction or loss of physical evidence. This is why firefighter commanders, and later, the investigator should ensure the scene is secure and no unauthorized intrusions are allowed. If a party, such as a landlord, fails to preserve critical evidence of a fire, that could result in an adverse evidentiary presumption in court later.
An independent fire investigation is often critical for determining the cause of a fire, and a tenant claim or lawsuit may hinge on that determination. Working with a landlord-tenant attorney ensures a fire investigation is conducted to provide critical evidence for your case.
If you are making a claim against your landlord for a fire, an independent fire investigation may be a critical part of the case. Tenants who need assistance with a fire claim or lawsuit should contact our Oakland landlord-tenant attorneys at Bracamontes & Vlasak today for a legal consultation at (415) 835-6777.