Cause and Origin Case Study
Case Synopsis: Defendant, fuel oil delivery and service company, allegedly improperly reconnected the fuel oil piping to a steam boiler resulting in a fire that destroyed a bakery. This work was completed several hours prior to the fire and while the bakery was in operation. Existing fuel oil piping was utilized by the fuel oil service company for the reconnect, and this piping was encased in concrete or buried for most of its travel length to and from the boiler and an underground storage tank.
Expert Analysis: Remains of the bakery were examined and witnesses were interviewed during the engineering investigation. Metallurgical and microscopic examinations were performed of fuel oil and other piping removed from the site. Expert investigation was performed in accordance with NFPA 921 Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations. All investigators agreed that the fire originated between an oil-fired oven and a wall within 20′ of the reconnected steam boiler. Two fuel oil suction pipes, two fuel oil gravity return pipes and one natural gas pipe were located in the general area of fire origin. All five pipes were found to be damaged. Laboratory analysis showed long term chemical damage had caused openings in the reconnected oil piping to the steam boiler, and it was determined that the failure points in this piping were enclosed in concrete prior to the fire. The fire destroyed a majority of the natural gas piping located within the area of fire origin. Engineering analysis concluded that the physical damage to the fire scene and eyewitness observations were not consistent with an oil-fed fire, and that the most logical and scientifically supportable explanation for this fire was natural gas leakage unrelated to the work of the fuel oil service company.
Result: Jury rendered a verdict in favor of the defendant fuel oil service company.