Nationwide Recoveries

Spontaneous Combustion Fire Guts New Home

A fire occurred in a new home in Greenville that was still under construction, but nearly complete. Stutman Law’s insured was acting as the builder and the homeowner was acting as the general contractor on the project when the fire occurred. The fire caused several hundred thousand dollars in insured losses, as well as a substantial uninsured loss to the homeowners.

Prior to the fire, the homeowners had hired a contractor to do the faux finish and staining work at the home. The contractor completed its work the day prior to the fire’s discovery and argued that the fire could not have been caused by its work. The contractor claimed that it had cleaned up all of its work areas, secured the home and left the previous day. The contractor also alleged that, despite the manufacturer’s warning, the staining materials it used at the home were incapable of spontaneous combustion.

During the course of discovery, Stutman Law learned that the contractor did not properly train its employees and failed to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding the proper cleaning and storage of soiled rags. Initially, the employees told the fire officials that they had stacked stain soaked rags in piles so they could be used later in time. However, by the time of their depositions, the employees had changed their stories, testifying that they only piled lightly used rags in piles inside a five gallon plastic container. 

During the fire investigator’s deposition, Stutman Law’s attorneys learned that although the local fire marshal listed the cause of the fire as undetermined in his public report, he also completed a private report. His private report stated that the fire had probably been caused by the spontaneous combustion of stain soaked rags that were disposed of and stored improperly.  At his deposition, the fire marshal testified as to his conclusion regarding spontaneous combustion, and he ultimately amended the public report to reflect that conclusion.

By cross examining the contractors’ employees with inconsistent statements, and by eliminating any other potential causes of the fire, Stutman Law was able to build a strong circumstantial case against the contractor. Our cause and origin expert solidified our case during his deposition and the case settled shortly thereafter for $200,000 (approximately 75% of paid damages).