Jennifer White and Debra DeRee won summary judgment as to all of Plaintiff’s claims with regard to the matter entitled Ronald Lindsey v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. a/k/a State Farm Insurance Co. in Las Animas County, case number 2017CV30075. The case involved the alleged theft of Plaintiff’s 2013 Chrysler 300, which was insured by State Farm, in Las Vegas, Nevada. The undisputed evidence showed that (1) the title presented with the vehicle for sale on the same date that Plaintiff claimed it was stolen lists Plaintiff as the seller and contained a signature using Plaintiff’s nickname; (2) a law enforcement investigator determined that the vehicle had not been stolen; (3) Plaintiff had reported two vehicles stolen prior to the alleged loss; (4) the vehicle was operated with a properly coded key fob at the time of the alleged theft; (5) despite Plaintiff claiming that one of the two key fobs issued to him at the time of the vehicle purchase was destroyed down a garbage disposal, Plaintiff was able to produce one key fob to State Farm and the other was found with the current owner of the vehicle (thus accounting for both original key fobs); and (6) a handwriting expert determined that it was “highly probable” that Plaintiff had signed the title on the date that he claimed it was stolen.
Plaintiff’s Complaint alleged claims for: (1) Breach of Contract; (2) Bad Faith Breach of Insurance Contract; (3) Unreasonable Conduct or Position; and (4) Statutory Violations of the Unfair Settlement Claim Practices Act (claiming delay-denial statute damages). State Farm denied such allegations, asserting that the vehicle was not stolen and, instead, had been sold by Plaintiff and sought summary judgment on all issues. The trial court agreed with State Farm and specifically found that: (1) it was reasonable for State Farm to challenge Plaintiff’s claim and that their handling and denial of Plaintiff’s claims was reasonable as a matter of law, including noting their compliance with Division of Insurance Amended Regulation 5-1-14; and (2) Plaintiff made material misrepresentations to the insurance company as to the key fobs and this, in combination with the fact that it was “highly probable” that Plaintiff had signed the title as seller, made it clear to the trial court that reasonable minds could not differ that the vehicle was not stolen without any involvement on Plaintiff’s part. The trial court found that Plaintiff’s misrepresentations voided the policy and granted summary judgment in favor of the insurance company on all claims, finding that, as a matter of law, a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for Plaintiff.
Frank Patterson and Gordon Queenan recently obtained a defense verdict on behalf of State Farm following an eight-day jury trial in Lawrence Turcotte v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Company. Mr. Turcotte claimed that his home in Loveland, Colorado was set on fire on the night of October 2, 2016. Following the fire, he reported a large amount of cash was missing from a safe in his bedroom. Mr. Turcotte was in Michigan at the time the fire was reported. He claimed that an electrician had been working on his house the day of the fire and must have been responsible for the theft and fire. Fire investigators confirmed that the house had no power and that the electric meter had been removed. Mr. Turcotte made a claim for homeowner’s benefits to State Farm. State Farm denied the claim on the basis that Mr. Turcotte had intentionally set the fire. Mr. Turcotte then filed suit alleging State Farm had breached its contract, engaged in bad faith, and unreasonably denied his claim. He sought the value of repairing his home as well as statutory penalties.
At trial, witness testimony established that the alleged electrician did not, in fact, exist and that Mr. Turcotte had been working on his own electric meter and breaker box days before the fire. State Farm established that Mr. Turcotte had caused the fire by using a heat lamp and a timer to delay the ignition of cloth, towels, and paper. Ignitable liquid and gas containers were found around the heat lamp. The jury entered a verdict for State Farm on the basis that Mr. Turcotte was not entitled to insurance benefits because he had intentionally started the fire at his residence.