Filed Under:Claims, Litigation

When Capacitors Fail: Investigating Electrical Fires and Explosions

Determine the Cause, Subrogation Opps

Oil filled capacitors store electrical energy and are used in a variety of electrical applications. These electrical components can fail for a variety of reasons, causing fires, explosions and, consequently, significant damage to buildings and personnel.

Just as the sensitive electrical components themselves require special handling, so too do the p&c claims arising from their malfunction. When investigating a claim resulting from capacitor failure, the insurer will need to determine the cause and weigh potential subrogation opportunities. This process may involve soliciting various experts, including (but not limited to) mechanical and/or electrical engineers.

A case study involving an incident where a capacitor failure damaged a small building serves to illustrate the consequences of oil filled capacitor failure.

Figures 2 and 3 are views of a small block wall building that was a shelter for a radio transmitter. The transmitter suddenly quit operating and the radio station went off the air. Investigators found the walls of the building pushed out as indicated by the arrows in Figure 2 below.

The damage was consistent with slight internal pressure inside the building, similar to that of a low energy explosion. Below, Figure 3 shows slight overpressure damage near a ventilation duct as indicated by the arrow.

 

Further investigation revealed thermal damage to the inside of an electronic cabinet depicted in Figure 4.

Using thermal damage patterns as a guide, a failed capacitor, which had been badly damaged, was found in the electronic cabinet (Figure 5).

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