Trial opens in Maryville fire insurance pay-out suit

Amelia Flood Jun. 15, 2009, 10:12am

Testimony began Monday afternoon in a breach of contract suit stemming from a 2004 fire.

Maryville-based company TMEG, Inc. is suing its insurer, Illinois Casualty Company for breach of contract. It claims the insurer failed to fully pay the company's claims and is seeking over $80,000 in damages and costs.

The trial got underway after jury selection at about 1:25 p.m. June 15.

The case was reassigned to Madison County Associate Judge Clarence Harrison. Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack had previously been assigned the case.

TMEG claims that, although its fire insurance policy was in full force, Illinois Casualty wrongly denied a supplemental claim it filed for restoration work on its Maryville restaurant. The property was damaged by flames in November 2004.

TMEG stated in its complaint that it eventually paid out $400,000 to restore the property. Illinois Casualty paid over $360,000 according to the suit.

TMEG is seeking the $80,626.63 plus pre-judgment interest and costs.
Illinois Casualty denies that it owes the amount. It claims that TMEG failed to notify it in writing that it planned to rebuild the restaurant.

During opening statements, plaintiff's attorney Ryan Mahoney stressed to the jury the fact his client was only asking for the roughly $80,000. He argued that the insurance company had willfully breached its contract with TMEG and its owner Joe Osborn of Maryville.

"While that fire was catastrophic," Mahoney contended, "the defendant only made it worse when it denied his [Osborn's] claim."

Defense consul John P. Cunningham asked the jury to enforce the policy -- one he argued the plaintiff broke when TMEG failed to file the required written notice in the 180 days stipulated.

Under the policy in question, TMEG had 180 days from the date of the accident to notify its insurance company it planned to rebuild the property if it wanted to collect that portion of policy's funds.

Cunningham began to argue that TMEG also failed to begin rebuilding its property in the time stipulated by the policy. He was cut off by a heated objection from plaintiff co-counsel David Antognoli.

Harrison called all three attorneys into chambers before returning to uphold Antognoli's objection. Cunningham's statements about the rebuild time-frame were stricken.

The plaintiff called two witnesses Monday afternoon, an official from Illinois Casualty and Daniel Long, a public insurance adjustor.

Long, who was hired by TMEG to negotiate its claims with the insurer, testified that he had been in contact with employees of Illinois Casualty numerous times prior to the expiration of the 180 day period in which TMEG had to notify its insurer of its rebuilding plans.

Long testified that he had verbally and in person informed various Illinois Casualty employees that the company was going to rebuild. He said that he did not write to the company about the rebuilding plans specifically because he was under the impression, from his conversations, that the plans were understood and that the company planned to pay the claim in full.

Under cross examination by the defense, Long admitted he technically violated the policy by not submitting a formal written notification of the rebuild plans. In earlier testimony, Long said he had submitted bids from contractors for the rebuild to the insurance company.

TMEG is represented by Mahoney and Antognoli. Illinois Casualty is represented by Cunningham.

The case is Madison case number 07-L-741.

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