Public safety is but one reason to have good, attentive security personnel guard a fire scene once authorities wrap up. Evidence that could be critical to a claim adjuster’s case is also at stake. Since the fire-fighter’s suppression of the blaze itself has already contributed to the demise of evidence, it is even more imperative to protect what is left. The issue of diligently protecting evidence in the interest of insurers is a relatively recent concern. Several court cases in Canada and the United States have penalized insurance companies for a lack of due diligence in protecting evidence, which ended in bad-faith judgements against insurers. In Canada, industry specialists point to an award against Pilot Insurance for $1 million in punitive damages for bad faith in refusing to pay out on a Haliburton family’s home, in part due to the company’s failure to produce credible evidence to support its suspicion of arson. In the United States, a number of similar rulings, along with a heightened concern over fire scene management in general, led to the release of the 79-page Fire and Arson Scene Evidence: A Guide for Public Safety Personnel. In the guide’s preface, Janet Reno, U.S attorney general at the time of its publication, writes: “Actions taken at the outset of an investigation at a fire and arson scene can play a pivotal role in the resolution of a case.” She continues, “Careful, thorough investigation is key to ensuring that potential physical evidence is not tainted or destroyed or potential witnesses overlooked.”
In a section called “Identify, Collect and Preserve Evidence,” the guide encourages fire officials to notify insurers as early as possible when a fire appears to be accidental and to “establish and maintain strict control of access to the scene” to ensure evidence integrity.
The timely arrival of reliable, private security personnel on a scene, to assist an adjuster once authorities are done, is pivotal to successful claims management.
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