Tales from A Subrogation Scene:
Recently, we were retained for an investigation of a car fire. Our client’s insured was driving down the road when his car burst into flames. Our client contacted us to coordinate the investigation of the fire and pursue any potential liable third parties.
Upon arriving to the “laboratory”—Auto Salvage Yard–to investigate the evidence, we learned that our insured had a unique taste in vehicle customization. First, the insured had hired a company to install a sound system in his vehicle that would rival most concert venues, but we’ll revisit that in discussing the cause of the fire.
What was even more interesting than the vehicle’s custom audio add-ons was the alteration that he had done to the factory installed radio. This was a joint inspection. So, representatives from several putative liable parties were present along with their experts. I observed one of those experts (not my expert) focusing on an area below the touch screen monitor that controlled the radio and other electronics in the car. All of a sudden, he apparently found the right spot, and a drawer POPPED out.
While the drawer was empty, it was clearly what is known as a “trap” or “stash box” that my client’s insured had installed on the vehicle. These compartments are installed in voids in a vehicle’s structure to be used for storing marijuana and other, usually, illegal material. Not exactly what you are hoping for in a winning subrogation claim.
The good news for our case was that the origin and cause investigator was able to narrow the origin to the rear seat compartment and eliminate any issues in the front. No “smoking” materials were identified by any of the investigators, which allowed us to eliminate the insured negligently disposing of a cigarette.
Further, the sound equipment installed in the vehicle included a very large amplifier that was mounted in the trunk and directly to the back of the rear seats. When the installer mounted this amp, he failed to create any air gap to allow for heat dissipation. Our expert determined that the cause of the fire was the heat of the large amplifier igniting the combustible fabric of the seat, which was consistent with the area of origin.
We were able reach an early settlement of this case with the installer using the physical evidence and opinions developed by our experts. This thankfully avoided the deposition of the insured and me cringing through his explanation of the secret compartment.
We cannot pick our insureds, but luckily, we can pick experienced experts.