Conrad S., Metro Boston
Conrad had a fire loss to an empty single-family home and the insurance company denied the claim on the grounds that it had been vacant for more than 60 days. The insurance policy provides there is no coverage for fire loss when a dwelling has been vacant for 60 days or more. After the insurance company denied the claim, Conrad went to several lawyers who told him there was nothing that could be done. He had no case. After about 9 months he came to us. We made a number of arguments.
First, the owner, Conrad, was in the process of renovating the building. A policy provision states a building undergoing renovation is not vacant. Of course, the insurance company did not want to acknowledge that Conrad was renovating. Not a lot of work was done to the property in the 60 days before the fire, because Conrad had to go to the local Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) for a hearing for a permit before doing the rebuilding. We showed how the hearings before the ZBA were within the 60 days and that activity legally should be considered as part of the rebuilding process.
Second, we argued the insurer had to pay the mortgage notwithstanding any vacancy by the owner. The insurer argued against that interpretation, but we maintained it. We got an assignment from the mortgage bank to include the bank’s claim in the suit to get the bank mortgage paid (for which the bank did not want to hire an attorney).
Lastly, we argued that the attorney for the insurer brought Conrad in for a statement, under oath, after the fire (when Conrad had no attorney with him or representing him) and asked him if he set the fire or had anyone set the fire. Conrad lived next to the empty house and was of course right there when the fire was discovered. He thought with such questioning he was going to be arrested for setting the fire. Conrad, who was older and in poor health had limited vocational school education. We showed at the time the insurance defense attorney was asking those questions the insurer knew the State Fire Marshall and local Fire Department had concluded the fire was accidental and started by an electrical malfunction. We argued that the questioning was in bad faith (a violation of the Massachusetts 93A statute) and an attempt to frighten and confuse Conrad to stop him from pursuing the claim with the insurer. Further, this questioning and denial of the claim caused Conrad emotional distress and nightmares.
After we filed suit and approximately 10 months of litigation in court, the insurer agreed to settle the case for over $200,000.