Forensic Services Newsletter
There is a practice amongst insurers of taking photographs of risks. This can be prior to taking up a risk or at renewal. In the event of a fire these photographs are sometimes made available to Forensic Services and for a variety of reasons we find them to be most useful. In fact they are so useful for deliberate fires or for claims where stock is exaggerated that we would like to encourage insurers to take better photographs, and more often. This article describes the uses of photographs and suggests ways to take effective ones.
To understand how a fire has spread a fire investigator has to have a good idea of the building construction and distribution of goods. To some extent the building has to be reconstructed, at least mentally, and this can be difficult to do in cases of extreme damage. Of particular importance are items high up, whether they are goods hung in a shop, a combustible ceiling or a mezzanine. If such features are not immediately apparent to the investigator, a false impression can be gained. For example an investigator might incorrectly suspect unusually rapid spread or even multiple seats of fire.
Quantity of Stock
Exaggeration of the quantity of goods is a feature of some fires. Loss adjusters and forensic scientists have techniques to determine pre-fire levels. Irrespective of the success of these, pre-fire photographs are always useful. Even if the photographs were taken a considerable time before the fire, the methods of stacking and the locations of the aisles assist in building up a picture of the goods at the time of the fire.
Quantity of Type of Stock
Different versions, brands and varieties of the same basic commodity can differ in value by an order of magnitude. After a fire it can be very difficult to distinguish from physical evidence alone. The right photograph can make all the difference. See below for more comments.
Most of the uses cited above are of obvious advantage to an investigator at a deliberate fire, and in this event the question arises as to who set the fire. In determining whether the premises were secure at the time of the fire it is of obvious advantage to know the status of doors and windows. Sometimes damage is so great that it becomes impossible to reconstruct from physical evidence, and pre-fire photographs can assist in showing in a court of law that the premises were secure.
Most deliberate fires involving insurance claims have an economic motive. This can involve machinery, stock or both. It is in this area that pre-fire photographs are most useful and can be crucial in a court case. Some businesses, even whole factories, can be established for the sole purpose of making a fraudulent insurance claim. Interestingly, even if pre-fire photographs are initiated by an insured with the intent of ‘proving’ that goods were present, our experience is that such photographs turn out to be more useful to the insurers than the insured.
The best way to store digital photographs at present is to burn them to a disk, which is put in a file. The capacity of these cheap disks is far in excess of people’s patience to take the photos. There is no need and it is a waste of money to print the photographs. Far less than 1% of photographs will ever be needed to be referred to, therefore it would not be necessary to spend on the print of all the photographs.
Digital cameras are able to be used in low light situations. The quality of the camera is not that important. What is important is to take useful photographs and have a system to register that the photographs were taken on a certain date by a particular person and to safely store those photographs.
New risks and businesses where there has been a significant increase in insurance would be good places to nominate for photographs. We would also suggest businesses in wooden or part wooden buildings, and isolated neighbourhoods or the ones located in areas where there are a lot of vacant lots.
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