Defense continues into third day in Granite City house fire trial

By Amelia Flood | May 13, 2010


The defense case in a suit over an unpaid fire claim at a Granite City residence from 2005 entered its third day in Madison County.

Investigator Tony Ventimiglia of the Illinois State Fire Marshall's Arson Investigation Unit testified about his findings at the plaintiff's home after it burned as well as the insurance investigator who contacted the plaintiff's ex-wife about the blaze.

Plaintiff Brent Davis is suing Country Mutual Insurance for allegedly refusing to pay out a $309,000 insurance claim after his home burned in September 2005. Davis claims that his home, car and personal possessions were destroyed by the fire and that his insurance policies fully covered the losses.

Country Mutual alleges that Davis intentionally set the fire to get the insurance money. It claims he misrepresented the condition of the home.

The insurance company has presented evidence that the home allegedly required nearly $100,000 in repairs at the time of the blaze.

The company is pursuing a counterclaim against Brent Davis.

The defense case entered its third day Thursday morning with the testimony of an electrical engineer who claimed he had failed to find an electrical source for the fire when he inspected the scene at the insurer's request.

That witness acknowledged on cross examination that he had only worked for insurance companies to date.

Previous defense experts included structural engineers and concrete work experts.

Ventimiglia testified that he had found no obvious ignition source or cause for the fire. He stated however, particularly under cross examination by plaintiff's counsel Anthony Bruning, that he still believes the fire had been purposefully set.

Bruning asked how that could be true if he could not determine the source and in light of statements by Brent Davis' father and girlfriend that seemed to corroborate his story.

"It's a summation of my observation," Ventimiglia said of his conclusion. "What he said didn't matter to the evidence shown in the basement. Not to cast aspersions by what he had to say and what the evidence in the basement told me are two different things."

The defense has consistently pointed to a pile of furniture in the center of where investigators determined the fire started as possible proof that Davis set the fire.

Davis contends he had stacked the furniture to prevent it from being damaged by his leaking basement.

Insurance investigator Martin Baker was asked by defense attorney Douglas Richard why he had sent a letter to Brent Davis' ex-wife Charlotte Davis stating that the claim was being denied due to suspicion it had been set by "an insured."

Baker told jurors it was standard procedure and required by the Illinois Department of Insurance. He said it was not to defame anyone, another of the claims Brent Davis has been pursuing.

On cross examination by Bruning, Bruning showed Baker a letter written in January 2005 stating that Charlotte Davis had been taken off the policy.

Baker agreed with Bruning's question about whether she should not have received a claim denial letter if that was the case.

Baker countered with another defense point claiming that Brent Davis did not have the right to take Charlotte off the policy despite the couple's 2002 divorce.

Charlotte Davis testified earlier in the week as a defense witness that Brent would have had her permission to do so.

Charlotte Davis was not living at the home at the time of the fire.

Bruning also questioned Baker about the timing of the letter sent to Charlotte Davis and whether it coincided with complaints Brent Davis filed with the state Department of Insurance about Country Mutual.

Baker denied any knowledge of the filed complaints.

The fire's initial investigator testified about its undetermined cause for the plaintiff earlier in the week.

The trial began Monday.

Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth presides. Ruth's motion docket for May 14 has been cancelled according to the docket.

Ruth allowed the juror's a break at 2:55 p.m. Testimony in the case resumed at about 3:15 p.m.

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

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