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7th Circuit affirms District Court in attorney house fire case

March 16, 2012

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a grant of summary judgment in favor of an insurer because an attorney and his wife failed to produce documents the company requested repeatedly.

In Harry Foster III and Linda Foster v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, No. 11-3100, Harry and Linda Foster, their two children, Harry’s father and the family’s eight dogs were away when a fire severely damaged the family’s home on Jan. 3, 2009. Linda Foster submitted a claim to State Farm the next day under the family’s homeowners’ policy.

The insurer learned that the Fosters had at least two businesses, held numerous business and personal accounts, and were involved in multiple lawsuits. State Farm promptly requested documents including blueprints, utility bills and receipts. The insurer sent a letter to the Fosters at the end of January, reminding them of their obligation to submit requested documents, and did so again in March.

By mid-March, State Farm’s fire investigator concluded the fire was set intentionally and referred the claim to its Special Investigative Unit.

The Fosters’ deadline to submit proof of loss was May 2, 2009, but they requested a 60-day extension, which State Farm granted. A few days later, the Fosters asked for more time and State Farm again extended the deadline. On Aug. 5, the couple submitted nearly 1,000 pages of documents.   

On Aug. 13 and 15, Harry Foster sat for his examination under oath; Linda Foster’s EUO was on Aug. 26. Based on statements the couple made about previously undisclosed bank accounts and business dealings, State Farm requested additional documents, dating back to 2002.

Citing Morris v. Economy Fire & Cas. Co., 848 N.E.2d 663 (Ind. 2006), the 7th Circuit wrote that the Fosters’ duty was not only to give State Farm documents they possessed, but to acquire and deliver other documents related to their financial condition.

“As a matter of law, the Fosters’ failure to produce requested documents or even explain why they could not, and their related failure to complete Mrs. Foster’s EUO, materially breached the contract,” Judge John Tinder wrote on behalf of the circuit court.
 

 

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