State Farm says Bethalto house fire was set as unpaid claim trial closes

Steve Gonzalez Feb. 15, 2008, 3:17am


Closing arguments are expected to begin Friday morning in a trial involving a Bethalto woman's unpaid house fire claim.

Represented by Michael Glisson of Alton, Terry Lowe sued State Farm Insurance in August 2006, alleging her home at 528 W. Corbin in Bethalto sustained fire damage on Nov. 14, 2004.

She claims State Farm's refusal to pay her claim without conducting a reasonable investigation is vexatious and without reasonable cause.

But State Farm claims the reason it did not pay the claim is because Lowe set the fire or had someone else do it at her direction which would preclude her from recovering damages.

Lowe claims her policy started in May 2004 and expired in May 2006.

"As a result of the fire, State Farm became liable to pay plaintiff for the property loss on the home," Lowe's complaint states. "Additionally, State Farm became liable to pay personal property losses and additional living expenses of plaintiff and his family and guests."

State Farm also alleges Lowe concealed and misrepresented material information concerning the condition of the house before the loss, her whereabouts at the time of the fire, her living arrangements and her involvement in setting the fire.

State Farm is represented by James DeFranco of Swansea.

On Thursday, former Bethalto Fire Chief John Nolte took the stand to discuss his investigation.

Nolte testified that he found no evidence during the course of his investigation that linked Lowe to starting the fire.

He testified that there were no accelerants used in the home to cause the fire and that he was unable to determine the cause of the fire.

Joseph Harszy, president of the Southern Illinois Arson Investigators Association, was also scheduled to take the stand.

According to court documents, Harszy was to testify that he was in a Wal-Mart a few days after the fire and was approached by store employee Brenda Meadows, who told him David Lowe set a house fire because his wife was leaving him and it was an attempt to make her stay.

Meadows is expected to testify that David Lowe was intoxicated when he admitted to setting the fire in question. She also is expected to testify that she is afraid of David Lowe, had a past relationship with him and that he set the fire so that his wife would not leave him.

Prior to the start of the trial, State Farm filed several motions in limine asking presiding judge Nicholas Byron to exclude any offers of settlement or refusals to make offers of settlement because the matters are irrelevant and are not probative to any material issue in the case.

State Farm argues the evidence is irrelevant because a compromise in reality involves a purchase of peace rather than an admission of liability.

Among other things, State Farm also wants Byron to ban any reference in the presence of the jury that Lowe was not arrested or charged with a crime in connection to the fire.

State Farm argues that just because the government failed to act is immaterial to the issues in the case for insurance purposes.

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