On February 22, 2012, Matt Casey obtained a jury verdict of $215,068.73 in favor of his clients in St. Francois County, Missouri. Matt represented a family whose house was destroyed by fire.
At the time of the fire, the family held a policy of homeowners insurance with Farm Bureau Town & Country Insurance Company of Missouri. Farm Bureau denied the clients’ claim alleging that the clients’ misrepresented the extent and amount of their personal property in the claim. Matt filed suit against Farm Bureau for breach of the homeowners insurance contract and for vexatious refusal to pay.
The basis of Farm Bureau’s argument that the clients made a misrepresentation was the fact that they had filed for bankruptcy six months before the fire. In the bankruptcy filing, the clients stated only $600 worth of personal property. In the proof of loss submitted to Farm Bureau, the clients claimed approximately $150,000 of personal property destroyed. Farm Bureau argued that the huge discrepancy between the two figures could not be reconciled.
However, Matt was able to successfully present evidence demonstrating that the there was a reasonable explanation for the difference. First, the clients admitted that they made an unintentional error in their bankruptcy petition when they took exemptions prior to listing property values (the bankruptcy was performed without the help of an attorney ). Second, Matt called bankruptcy attorney, Gary Bollinger, to testify on behalf of his clients. Mr. Bollinger testified that a debtor in a bankruptcy is required to only submit market value figures for general categories of personal property to the bankruptcy court.
On the other hand, Farm Bureau required the clients to submit a detailed itemization of all items destroyed and to list replacement values. Mr. Bollinger testified that the difference between market value and replacement value is great. He also testified that this fact combined with the error committed by Plaintiffs can easily account for such a large discrepancy in the two figures.
Matt argued argued that Farm Bureau did not have reasonable cause and excuse to deny the claim, because his clients explained the discrepancy from the outset of the claim and a simple investigation would have confirmed their reasoning.
After deliberating for a little over one hour, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Matt’s clients for $215,068.73, consisting of $134,362.49 on the insurance policy, $13,706.24 for penalty, $67,000.00 for attorneys fees.
The Judge then added pre-judgment interest to the award and and entered final Judgment in the amount of $283,527.84.