In some cases, property owners on the West Side of Michigan and in other places intentionally set fires to collect casualty insurance. Fires may spread, and extensive damage may result from arson. As an insurer, you owe an obligation to provide your insured with qualified counsel, but you do not need to defend or pay for acts that are excluded from coverage. This is a sensitive tripartite balancing act for the insurance defense attorney whom you retain. The Neumann Law Group may be able to provide knowledgeable and experienced counsel in the event of suspected arson. Our principal, Kelly Neumann, is a Grand Rapids and Traverse City arson lawyer who can put her insights related to plaintiffs' claims to work for your insured.Protecting Your Interests Against Arson
You may be obligated to defend your insured if a fire started by the insured spreads and harms another person or their property. The duty to provide a defense in a tort action depends on the allegations of the complaint, and it extends to allegations that arguably come within liability coverage. This duty to defend is broader than your duty to indemnify the insured.
Since courts are required to resolve doubts about the duty to defend in favor of the insured, it is critical to retain an experienced and knowledgeable defense attorney on behalf of your insured. During the course of representing a client in Grand Rapids or Traverse City, our arson attorneys can keep the insurance company informed of the risk as well as the facts relevant to a defense, including facts related to potential arson and an arson defense.
Insurance policies define whether there is coverage for a particular event. In most cases, policies provide coverage for "occurrences," which are defined as accidents. Arson is an intentional criminal act. In most cases, arson cannot be construed as an accident, but even if it can be in a particular situation, most policies have an intentional acts exclusion clause that negates the potential coverage. The critical issue in a coverage determination by the court will be whether the insured had a subjective intent to burn property. Courts have determined that merely knowing of a potential danger is not the same thing as knowledge of an actual and expected harm.
For example, a fire might be started by a faulty electric cord on your insured's coffeemaker. While your insured has intentionally plugged in a coffeemaker, the resulting fire is still an accident that would likely count as an "occurrence" under a policy. This is different from intentionally setting a fire for the purpose of burning down a house or setting fire to the whole neighborhood. However, in some cases, the insured commits arson in connection with their own property but inadvertently burns down or damages other parties’ property.
In some cases, the policy language requires a defense of the insured in civil lawsuits brought by other property owners. To escape liability under an arson defense, an insurer will need to prove owner arson through direct or circumstantial evidence. Often, there is no direct evidence, and you will need to show circumstantial evidence obtained from a fire investigation. With circumstantial evidence, you will need to show evidence that someone committed arson, evidence that implicates the insured, and the insured's motive.
Ordinarily, the policyholder and the insurer have consistent interests, but this may not be true in cases of suspected arson. We are alert to potential conflicts of interest and understand the duty of undivided loyalty to the insured if we are appointed as independent counsel. However, we are also sensitive to coverage matters in the event of arson, and we may also be able to defend under a reservation of rights.Contact an Arson Lawyer in Grand Rapids or Traverse City
If you need a knowledgeable defense for your insured, our fire fraud attorneys may be able to assist you. Our West Side of Michigan firm represents clients in Detroit, Lansing, Ann Arbor, Flint, Petoskey, Warren, Holland, Muskegon, Midland, Kalamazoo, Wyoming, and Saginaw, as well as areas throughout the Upper Peninsula. Contact the Neumann Law Group at 800-525-NEUMANN or via our online form to set up an appointment with a Traverse City or Grand Rapids arson attorney.