Trial by Fire: Junk Science

As every adjuster knows, finding the cause of a fire can help pursue subrogation or aid in the criminal investigation of those deemed responsible. However, with a more thorough knowledge of the science behind fires, what most of us were taught has radically changed. The following story is an example of how old science convicted an innocent man and how the new science helped free him.
What remained of the Gavitt’s home after a fire on March 9, 1985
For the 26 years David Lee Gavitt sat in a Michigan prison, he told everyone who would listen that he did not set the fire that killed his wife and two baby girls. Nearly 25 years would pass before some of the nation’s top fire experts would tell him they believed him.
“David’s case was the classic example of a bad arson case,” said John Lentini, a leading fire scientist who reviewed Gavitt’s case during the effort to get his conviction overturned. “People jumped to conclusions.”
Since Gavitt’s conviction in 1986, the field of fire investigation has been turned on its head. Scientists and investigators have discovered that features long considered signs of a fire intentionally set, in fact also occur during accidents. This has prompted the re-examination of arson convictions across the country that may have been based on bad science.
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