October – 2019
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. The jury quickly returned a defense verdict, concluding plaintiff was responsible for the fire which destroyed his residence.
Plaintiff claimed that an intentionally set fire damaged his home and personal property on October 2-3, 2016. Plaintiff claimed that he had hired an electrician to work on his home while he was out of state in Michigan. He claimed the electrician (who could not be located or identified) found a moneybox in the house with $17,000 in it, stole the money, and set a fire in the house to conceal his theft. State Farm denied plaintiff’s claim, alleging plaintiff had caused or procured the fire. Plaintiff said he was 1,000 miles away and denied he had opportunity or motive for the fire. Plaintiff sued for unpaid contract benefits of $240,000 for property damage and $72,000 for personal property; $85,925.17 for asbestos mitigation; $191,796.83 for house repairs; $19,375.18 for fire mitigation. Unreasonable Delay/Denial Damages of $624,000 (plus attorney fees); Unspecified Bad Faith Damages.
State Farm denied there was any electrician. State Farm alleged that plaintiff was trying to do electrical work himself to bypass the city meter so he could start a marijuana grow operation in his basement. When he messed up the electrical work and the house was without power, he inexplicably decided to drive to Michigan to see his sick mother. He first paid for a hotel for other residents of the house so it would be empty. Before he left town to drive to Michigan, he moved furniture to the middle of the living room, surrounded it with combustibles like cloth, towels, paper, and cardboard boxes, and left multiple canisters of butane and propane and cans of camping fuel in the room. He connected an extension cord from a neighbor’s house to a heat lamp which was clamped onto the furniture. Ignitable liquid and gas containers were found around the heat lamp. During expert discovery, a melted timing device was found in the debris connected to the lamp. State Farm alleged the timing device and heat lamp provided the opportunity to start the fire and undermined his alibi of being 1,000 miles away. State Farm also alleged plaintiff did not have $17,000 in cash in his house, arguing that he had spent almost all of his “nest-egg” over the preceding 4 years since his retirement.
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. 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.
Plaintiff’s final demand before trial was $1,000,000. State Farm offered a mutual dismissal walk-away.