When You've Lost Everything in a Fire, Turn to an Experienced Team
A fire is a devastating event, depriving people of a place to live, clothes to wear, and, when fire damages a business, often a person's sole source of income. Insurance companies advertise that they will step up to the plate and handle the claim "like a good neighbor," or that the insured is "in good hands," or that the insurance company is "on your side."
Unfortunately, these catchy slogans may amount to little more than false advertising. Insurance companies often turn on the very people they promise to protect, accusing them of arson, fraud, or misrepresentation.
After a catastrophic fire loss, insurance companies all too often turn out to be the problem instead of the solution.
The experienced legal team at Rutter & Russin will protect you from your "protector." We handle a wide variety of issues that arise following fires including:
- Allegations of arson or insurance fraud
- Disputes over the origin or cause of a fire
- Application errors
- How to value property
- What documents a policyholder must produce
We have probably handled many cases similar to yours.
The parents’ house was destroyed by the intentional act of their mentally ill son. The insurance company denied the claim because of the Intentional Loss exclusion in the policy, which excluded losses caused by any insured. Since the son was living with his parents, he was an insured under the policy.
But prior to denying the claim, the insurer never researched the son’s longstanding mental illness, which included treatment for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The insurer also failed to research Ohio law, which holds that the acts of a mentally ill person are not ‘intentional’ if the mentally ill person lacks the capacity to govern their conduct in accordance with reason.
Once we got involved in the claim and filed suit, we provided the insurer with the son’s medical records and our analysis of Ohio law. The insurer rectified its mistake and paid the $750,000 claim.
A couple hired a nationally-advertised foam insulation company to insulate the crawl space of the couple’s newly constructed house. During the installation, a fire began in the crawl space that totally destroyed the house. The couple’s insurer paid them their policy limits, but they were badly underinsured and sought recovery directly from the insulation company, which denied any liability. Experts pin-pointed the area of origin as the crawl space and explained how poorly installed foam insulation can auto-ignite, which is what happened here. After a week-long trial, a jury returned a verdict for the couple for $750,000.
Even when the insured has a policy and a loss occurs that is normally covered—here, frozen pipes leading to water damage—the insurer often refuses to pay, relying on a tricked-up defense known as the “residence premises” defense. The policy insured the insured’s home, and had for over 20 years. But when the loss occurred, the elderly insured was in a nursing home following a surgery and had been out of the home for nearly a year. Her prospect of returning was looking dimmer all the time. Meanwhile, her son maintained the home but did not live there.
The insurer took the position that the insured had purchased a policy that required her to actually live in the house, not just own it, and denied her claim. We disputed the insurer’s interpretation of the policy and fought the defense and the judge eventually sided with us and our client against the insurance company, resulting in a favorable—but long delayed—settlement.
Allstate argued that the policyholders set fire to their house in the middle of the night because they wanted to relocate from Ohio to Florida, and then lied to Allstate's investigator about their attempts to sell the house, the purchase of another house in Florida, and their whereabouts at the time of the fire. Allstate was so confident in its position that it offered only $6,000 to settle the case. Rutter & Russin short-circuited Allstate's case by establishing that the fire was not arson, but was probably caused by an electrical fault. Since the fire was not incendiary, all of Allstate's questions about selling the house and relocating were immaterial. The jury agreed and returned a verdict for $516,000.
A suspicious fire destroyed a popular Northeast Ohio riverfront restaurant that was insured by two identical policies issued by two different companies. The owner had requested his long-time carrier to cancel its policy the week before the fire after receiving a substantially lower quote from another carrier. The agent for the long-time carrier asked for more time to try and match the new company's quote. While the agent was preparing his new quote, the fire occurred. Rutter & Russin convinced the carriers that the cause of the fire could never be determined, and that both carriers owed their full policy limits, rather than both policies prorating the loss. The claim was resolved for nearly $3 million.
A fire caused millions of dollars of damage to a business' manufacturing facility. The policy had just gone into effect, and the insurer had inspected the risk and told the insured to make sure the sprinkler system was operable. The insurer called a repair company that scheduled a visit the following week. The weekend before the repairs were to be completed, the fire occurred. The insurer denied the claim, asserting that the policy was void because the insured was required to have an operable sprinkler system. After the insured hired Rutter & Russin to file suit, discovery revealed that the agent and the insurer's underwriter both knew the sprinkler system was inoperable when the policy was written, and all parties understood that the insured would be given a reasonable time to remedy the situation. The case settled for $3.2 million.
The insureds were out of town on a family vacation when their century home burned. They had bought the home when it was slated for demolition and painstakingly restored it to its former pristine condition. The insurance company had inspected the house before issuing the policy and agreed that it should be insured for $600,000. After the fire, however, the insurer's adjuster asserted that the house could be rebuilt for about half that amount, and then denied the claim on the basis that the insureds had "probably been involved in setting the fire." The adjuster jumped to this conclusion because of some minor discrepancies between the husband and wife's examinations under oath. Rutter & Russin pursued the case in federal court and established through third-party testimony that the insureds were three states away when the fire occurred, and that the house was properly insured to value based on the testimony of the insurer's own inspectors and underwriters.
Four juveniles were skateboarding in a barn when they decided to build a small fire to keep warm. They thought that they had put out the fire when they left, but it rekindled and destroyed the barn. Rutter & Russin, representing the barn owner, sued the juveniles, who were all insured under their parents' homeowners policies. The insurers denied coverage, asserting that the fire was an excluded loss because it resulted from the intentional acts of the juveniles. The court disagreed, holding that although the initial fire was set intentionally, the juveniles had never intended to burn down the barn.
A man was devastated when his wife perished in a house fire in Akron, but even more shocked when the insurance company and the state fire marshal concluded that the woman had set the fire herself in order to commit suicide. Rutter & Russin hired a fire cause and origin expert, a toxicologist, and a pathologist in order to convince the carrier that its conclusion was erroneous, resulting in a favorable settlement for its client.
The century-old house located in Ohio City was not much to look at when the insured bought it for $5,000 at a sheriff's sale. But he invested money and sweat labor into the house, completely redoing it and turning it into a plush retreat. The insurance company agreed to insure it for $300,000, but when a fire totally destroyed the house the company quickly changed its tune. Now it wanted all the receipts that the insured had for the repairs, arguing that it was only liable for $5,000 plus the value of the repairs that the insured could prove with receipts and records. Rutter & Russin called the insurance company's bluff and demanded an appraisal, resulting in a settlement for nearly the entire policy limit.
All the elderly woman owned was her house, but that did not stop the insurance company from denying her fire claim based on a hyper-technical reading of the insurance policy. The insurer claimed that the woman did not reside in her own house because she had temporarily rented out the house while she went to live and care for a sick friend. Rutter & Russin established in court that the insurer's policy interpretation was wrong, and the case was settled for an amount in excess of the policy limits.
The insured was renovating a century-old commercial building when a fire broke out that required the building to be gutted and rebuilt. The insurance company paid for the renovations that had been completed before the fire, but argued that it had never intended to insure the entire building. The resulting lawsuit against both the insurance company and the agent who had completed the application resulted in a settlement that allowed the insured to rebuild the entire structure.
A fire destroyed a house in the country occupied by a divorced man. The insurance company's investigator claimed that the fire was set intentionally with a flammable liquid. The homeowner believed that the fire occurred because he fell asleep smoking a cigarette. The insurance company denied the claim and accused the homeowner of arson. A trial in federal court in Indiana resulted in a verdict for the homeowner after a fire expert hired by Rutter & Russin was able to rebut the allegations made by the insurance company's investigator.
A printing company suffered a devastating fire loss, and recovered over a million dollars from its carrier for damage to a warehouse, but the carrier refused to pay for most of the inventory, claiming that it was not covered by a technical reading of the policy. The company hired Rutter & Russin to pursue the balance of the claim, resulting in the insurance company paying an additional $750,000.
A woman was devastated after losing her home and all of her belongings in a fire. The situation turned from bad to worse when her estranged husband who had moved out two years ago re-entered the picture when he got wind of the insurance claim. He demanded the insurance proceeds for the loss, claiming the majority of the property belonged to him. Rutter & Russin came to the woman's aid. Our investigation into the husband's background confirmed that only a small fraction of the insured property belonged to him and resulted in our client receiving the insurance proceeds that were rightfully hers.
Common questions regarding fire claims
You've just suffered loss in a fire — what should you do next? This concise, informative article by Bob Rutter answers numerous questions commonly asked by homeowners after a fire. Learn more about the role of fire contractors and insurance adjusters, and discover how your insurance company will likely approach repair or replacement.
Read the full article