A defendant in a man's suit against Country Mutual Insurance's alleged failure to pay out a house fire claim was dropped just before the Madison County trial opened Monday.

Defendant Mike Morris was dropped without prejudice from plaintiff Brent Davis' suit Monday.

Another defendant in the case, insurance agent Matt Crider, was dropped from the case May 4.

Jury selection began Monday.

Davis is suing Country Mutual for allegedly refusing to pay a $309,000 fire claim.

He claims a September 2005 fire destroyed his home, car and personal possessions and that he was fully covered by Country Mutual for their loss.

He sued Morris for allegedly making statements that Davis and a former co-plaintiff, Lori Flowers, intentionally set the fire.

Morris claimed in his handwritten answer that his statements were misheard and misunderstood.

Country Mutual denies Davis' claims. It is pursuing a counterclaim against Davis.

Jurors were picked and sworn in Monday afternoon.

Plaintiff's attorney Anthony Bruning told jurors that they were "the judges."

He criticized Country Mutual's investigation of the fire and pointed to fire investigators he hired. Country Mutual has contended that the fire was intentionally set.

"They had no right to jump to the conclusion that Brent set this fire," Bruning said in his opening statement. "Their investigation was flawed. Their conclusion was flawed."

The defense countered that Davis made misleading statements about the condition of the house and that multiple investigators and experts have determined the blaze was intentionally set.

Crider was dropped from the suit with prejudice and each party was to bear their own costs.

Flowers was dropped from the suit two years ago.

Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth presides.

Davis is represented by Bruning.

Country Mutual is represented by Douglas Richard and others.

Crider was represented by Sara Finan Melly and others.

Morris represents himself.

The trial will resume Tuesday with the plaintiff's case.

The case is Madison case number 06-L-451.

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