Stephen Ternullo & Associates, Inc.
steve@ternullo.us P: (586) 868-0220 www.STAengineering.us

Stephen Ternullo & Associates, Inc.


FIRE CAUSE DETERMINATION: THE PROCESS OF ELIMINATION

There are times during a fire investigation when the process of elimination (POE) to determine the cause of the fire is allowable per NFPA 921. Under this scenario, it is essential that the material first ignited, and the ignition sequence be determined. This is especially so since the investigator claims an absence of physical evidence of the ignition source. This is commonly referred to as the "negative corpus methodology". In a 2009 federal court case, Smith vs. Allstate insurance Company, the defendant retained an expert to conduct a fire investigation. According to the expert, the area of origin was the dining room, the point of origin was the breaker box, the first materials ignited were "ordinary combustibles" and the ignition source was an open flame from an intentional human act. Based on those findings, the expert classified the fire as incendiary in nature. Smith filed suit for compensatory damages, and punitive damages for the insurer's "bad faith" in denying the claim. In considering the arguments, the trial court found evidence to support the defendant's arson defense because the investigator ruled out all causes other than an intentional human act; the fire investigator maintaining there was no evidence to support a finding of another cause. While the court did not say those findings were proven, they found evidence to support the conclusions, and therefore dismissed the "bad faith" claim. In determining that the defendant had not acted in "bad faith" by relying on NFPA 921 guiding principles, the Smith court essentially endorsed NFPA 921's inclusion of the process of elimination methodology contained within its text. However, POE is not to be used indiscriminately, and is valid only when a clearly defined origin exists to the exclusion of all other potential origins. What NFPA (2008 Edition) says is "the elimination of all accidental causes" to reach a conclusion that a fire was incendiary is a finding that can rarely be justified scientifically using only physical data; however, the "elimination of all causes other than the application of an open flame" is a finding that may be justified in limited circumstances, where the area of origin is clearly defined (emphasis added) and all other potential heat sources at the origin can be examined and credibly eliminated". For POE to be credible, the area of origin must be known with certainty - without this, subsequent conclusions will invariably be made in error.

By: Steven Feeney, PE



TRAFFIC ACCIDENT RECONSTRUCTION

While complicated multi-automobile accidents can test the skills of the most seasoned accident reconstructionist, the majority of automobile collisions tend to be much less complicated. Initial accident investigations can lead to conflicting witness statements, or physical damage inconsistent with the facts. Many times, detailed measurements of automobile damage is necessary to make an estimate of the speed of the vehicles, and/or trajectory of the cars, and this may not be possible to ascertain from the photos available. It can be quite helpful to have a trained investigative engineer go to inspect the vehicle to not only get accurate measurements of the damage, but in tandem with an understanding of the basic equations of motion, conservation of momentum, etc., can estimate the speed of the vehicle at impact. Of course, there are many sophisticated programs and software packages available to the accident reconstrutionist but a professional engineer has the educational background to perform the basic physics and motion calculations needed to reconstruct the majority of accidents.

By: Steven Feeney, PE

SLIPS, TRIPS AND FALLS

A person can suddenly find they are no longer in an upright position, but falling headfirst to the ground, or maybe even worse, flat on their back. There is a difference between a "slip" and a "trip", and caution needs to be used when defining such an occurrence. While this may seem to some a mere question of semantics, care should be taken when evaluating such accidents. In general, slips result in a backward-falling motion, while trips tend to result in the person falling forward, injuring hands, etc. Many times these falls are due to inadequate safety design, faulty construction, or improper maintenance. Slip and trip accidents generally happen for a reason, and a properly trained expert can help you ascertain their cause.

WINTER NEMESIS: ICE DAMS

Ice dams are a common cold weather problem caused by snow melting over heated portions of a building and refreezing at colder portions of the roof, creating a dam. Water produced by subsequent melting then backs up under the shingles, eventually causing damage to insulation, interior finishes, and more. The snow melts due to heat loss into the attic from inadequate insulation, air leakage, and/or inadequate ventilation. The success of retrofit solutions depends in part on existing construction details and accessibility of the attic. Prevention is easier and more assured in new construction.

In colder regions, application 10' to 12' up the roof and the full length of valleys may be needed. Local codes may provide minimum requirements for this type of protection.

Source: SOURCE: ToolBase Services

LOOKING FOR EXPERTISE?

Boiler Failure

Are you handling a claim regarding boiler freeze-up? Or, maybe a potential apartment fire due to boiler malfunction? Or, possibly faulty design of a wood-fired boiler? Give us a call.

That Darn Ice

Winter weather invariably brings with it the formation of ice dams. Many of these are caused by faulty construction practices, or improper installation techniques. Need someone to check a claim?

Ignition-Start Thyself?

Claimant maintains someone stole his car, and the keys aren't missing. Do you need someone to conduct an ignition/steering column analysis to validate this claim?

Window Seal Failure?

Claimant maintains 20 year-old thermal pane windows have been damaged due to an awful storm that came through the area, packing wind gusts in excess of 75 mph. Could these claims be true? A quick investigation may reveal such a claim is without merit.

Dryer Failure

Homeowner claims loss due to 10 year old dryer failure. A trip to the property reveals nothing out of the ordinary. Could it be as simple as a failed dryer switch? A short visit to the property and quick investigation may reveal the cause.

Stephen Ternullo & Associates
P: (586) 868-0220
F: (586) 868-0221
steve@ternullo.us
www.STAengineering.us