Jury Sides With Insurer In Denial Of House Fire Claim

Thomas Rohde, Kelly Rohde v Allstate Insurance Company

  • Verdict: Not Guilty to both Plaintiffs
  • Judge: Michael T. Caldwell (IL, McHenry 22nd Jud Cir)
  • Pltf Atty: William J. Sneckenberg of Sneckenberg, Thompson for both pltfs
  • Demand: $200,000
  • Asked: $314,000
  • Deft Atty: Mark B. Ruda of Condon & Cook
  • Offer: $20,000
  • Pltf Experts: Joe Schwarz, Wauconda Fire Dept., 109 W. Liberty St., Wauconda, IL (847-526-2821) (Fire Cause/Origin) and Rita Carroll (Fire Cause/Origin) for both Plaintiffs
  • Deft Expert: Sean Merck, Rayburn Fire Scene Investigations, 909 E. 31st St., Unit B, LaGrange Park, IL (708-588-1970) (Fire Cause/Origin)

September 13, 2005, Plaintiffs' home at 952 Revere Ln., Island Lake (McHenry County), IL burned down and was a total loss ($276,000 dwelling and contents damage, $11,000 debris removal, $18,000 living expenses). After its investigation, Defendant Allstate denied their claim on the basis that the fire was intentionally set and that Plaintiffs concealed their role in the act. Plaintiffs filed suit alleging breach of contract and bad faith, seeking extra-contractual damages. They contended Allstate's methodology was flawed and the cause of the fire was undetermined (supported by their experts) but was not arson, and suggested it was most likely ignited by a candle accidentally falling.

The defense maintained, based upon the opinion of its expert, that the fire was deliberately set; if a candle had fallen, the fire pattern would have been different; the Rohdes admitted no candles were lit when they left the house; and, Plaintiffs had a motive for setting the fire as they were three months behind in their mortgage, had no bank accounts, Mr. Rohde's business was shut down one month before the fire, and they were working at a local pizza restaurant a few hours each week. Further, the defense argued, Plaintiffs had opportunity to set the fire; the house was locked when the fire department arrived; the Rohdes told different stories to the police, fire department, and Allstate about their whereabouts the morning of the fire; and, neighbors saw Plaintiffs' car in their driveway shortly before the fire when both said they had been away from the house for at least 2.5 hours before the fire started. Mrs. Rohde's father testified that the car seen in the driveway shortly before the fire was his as he was at the house looking for his daughter.

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