Who's legally liable for a house fire?
January 21, 2009 10:24 AM   Subscribe

My friend rents a house. The house burned last week. My friend has renter's insurance (probably not enough) and the landlord has homeowner's insurance (only $30k - definitely not enough). The fire inspector just announced that my friend's electric mattress pad shorted and caused the fire. Is the landlord's insurance company going to come after my friend?

The details: No one was home at the time of the fire, and there were no injuries. The living quarters are completely destroyed but the semi-subterranean garage is wet but okay, as are most of the roughly $75,000 worth of tools in it.

The house will be bulldozed once my friend finishes clearing his surviving stuff out, so we should consider the house a total loss. The fire was not caused by any negligence; it was one of those random electrical fires.

I realize that if any lawyers answer this question, you are not my lawyer, etc. This is my first experience with a house fire, but my other experiences with insurance companies have not been positive. Is the landlord's insurance company likely to come after my friend in some sort of subrogation claim?
posted by workerant to Home & Garden (2 answers total)
Every insurance company will send their CFIs and possibly engineers. The experts will all write their own cause and origin reports for the fire incident. If the electric mattress pad was at fault, most likely everyone will point to the manufacturer of that electric mattress pad and they will have to pay for the damages (or their insurance will). They will protest and get their own experts to try and determine if the pad was abused at all by your friend and try to point their finger at your friend.

If the fire is classified as "undetermined" by all experts, all insurance companies will pay out to their customer. If the evidence may be destroyed to the point that it cannot be determined within a reasonable level of engineering uncertainty, what caused the fire. Someone might argue, for instance, that your roommate smokes cigarettes and neglected to put his smoke out and it somehow got on the mattress, smoldered, then ignited.

In the future, your friend may be in a better position if he goes with the same insurance provider as his landlord. Lowers the amount of time to make a determination on who pays for what damages. Since, it sounds like, the building was most likely up to code, the landlord is probably in the best position here.
posted by nickerbocker at 10:38 AM on January 21, 2009

His renter's insurance will normally have two components - casualty coverage, where the company pays for his losses, up to the specified limit, and liability coverage, where the company pays off any claims that someone else makes, and proves, again subject to a different limit. For the latter, the company provides and pays for a lawyer to defend him.
posted by yclipse at 2:19 PM on January 21, 2009

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