Madison County jury rules for State Farm in house fire trial

Steve Gonzalez Feb. 21, 2008, 6:00am


After four days of testimony, a Madison County jury ruled Feb. 15 that State Farm Insurance did not breach contract when it denied a Bethalto 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.

Lowe alleged State Farm's refusal to pay her claim without conducting a reasonable investigation was vexatious and without reasonable cause.

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

Represented by James DeFranco of Swansea, State Farm also alleged 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.

According to State Farm, the night of the fire, Lowe's 12-week-old kitten was taken out of the house and accompanied Lowe that evening.

Reached by telephone, Glisson said this is one of those cases that leaves him wondering.

"You win some and you lose some," Glisson said. "I cannot explain the verdict."

Glisson said that the house has been in Lowe's family for over 80 years and that her grandmother was born in the house.

He said he spoke with some jurors after their verdict and was told they were split six-to-six going into deliberations, but ultimately ruled for the defense.

Last 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, also testified at the trial.

Harszy testified that shortly after the fire in Lowe's home, he was approached by Wal-Mart 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.

Madison County Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron presided during the trial.

Glisson said he is mulling over filing post-trial motions, which could include a motion to set aside the jury's verdict.

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