Recently a Coroner’s Inquest was held into the tragic deaths of seven people in two separate house fires. In one fire, three teenagers died of smoke inhalation in a unit rented from a landlord who had previously been convicted for fire code violations at the property. In the other fire, parents and their two teenage sons died in a home where there may not have been a working smoke alarm on the main floor. This fire left the lone survivor without his parents and siblings. In both fires, there were issues regarding fire department response times.
Among the Coroner’s Jury’s 33 recommendations[i] are better education of the public on fire safety and the importance of working smoke alarms. While the recommendations are laudable and hopefully attainable, one recommendation suggests increasing the requirements in insurance policies for equipping residential homes with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
While requiring and enforcing that all residential homes be equipped with functional and properly placed smoke alarms and CO detectors is a must, giving insurance companies an out on paying a claim arising from a tragic fire should not be the consequence of this recommendation.
In many commercial policies an insurer may insert a warranty or a condition relating to working fire suppression systems. In the commercial world this is more of a realistic expectation. However, residences or tenanted homes have a much lower risk of a fire occurring and less resources available. Where tragedy strikes, an insurance company should not be able to avoid its obligations under the policy by excluding coverage to those that do not have a working fire or CO detector.
If this recommendation were to come to fruition, the survivor in addition to losing his parents and brothers in this tragic fire, would also have lost his home and belonging with no insurance to replace them. Surely that should not happen.
The recommendation should be that insurers and brokers should be conducting inspections of the properties they insure on a yearly basis. As part of that inspection they can work with the homeowner to ensure that functional systems are installed to prevent tragedies not insurance payouts.