Madison - St. Clair Record

Friday, August 23, 2019

At trial: Belleville building owner's suit against State Farm seeking additional payment on fire claim

By Ann Maher | Mar 10, 2016


The owner of a downtown Belleville building that burned to the ground in May 2010 is arguing at trial that he should be paid an additional $1.6 million for property loss and $1.64 in punitive damages from State Farm Insurance Co.

Represented by Penni Livingston of Fairview Heights, Ronnie Phillips sued in 2012 claiming he was unable to rebuild at 205 East Main St. because payment of his policy was insufficient, and since he was not able to rebuild, he lost rental income.

He further claims that total square footage of the insured property at 205-207 East Main had been miscalculated, an error that later resulted in the "reformation" of his policy.

Phillips, who testified on Wednesday, has been paid a total of $823,000 for the loss, which includes $87,000 for lost income, according to testimony. He was originally paid $436,000, until the square footage error was detected.

In an amended complaint filed less than two weeks before trial began, Livingston wrote that a reformed policy should reflect replacement costs as high as $2.7 million, and no lower than $2.414 million.

"Plaintiff asks this Court to enter a judgment against Defendant consistent with the verdict of 12 jurors speaking in one voice in the amount proven at trial and expected to be at $2.414 million minus payments made for building losses, exclusive of other losses paid...," she wrote.

St. Clair County Associate Judge Christopher Kolker is presiding over the trial which got underway on Monday.

State Farm, represented by Michael Bedesky and Martin Morrissey of Belleville, argues that Phillips' consumer fraud and common law fraud claims are not actionable.

Bedesky wrote that after the measuring error was discovered, the loss was ultimately re-calculated and additional monies were paid.

"Although Plaintiff attempts to claim his alleged criticisms of State Farm constitute 'misrepresentation' they do not set forth a factual basis for an ICFA (Illinois Consumer Fraud Act) claim," he wrote.

He further argues that consumer fraud requires "much more than merely promising to do something and failing to follow up on that promise...[T]he Illinois Supreme Court has held that the ICFA does not apply in cases where a defendant has made an 'honest mistake.'"

Bedesky also states that Phillips' common law fraud claim lacks specificity and particularity.

"What the complaint does allege is that Plaintiff received the full policy limits which he purchased for 205/207," he wrote. "Later, after the underwriting mistake was discovered Plaintiff received additional monies on the reformed policy. Although Plaintiff characterizes State Farm's activity as 'fraud' the actual facts contained in the complaint do not allege an intentional misrepresentation of any kind."

He also wrote that Phillips' claim for punitive damages fails to rise to the level of "gross" fraud or other circumstances of malice or willfulness.

On Wednesday, State Farm field underwriter Stephanie Stover also testified until 4:45 p.m. when Kolker adjourned for the day. Another six witnesses are expected to testify before the sides rest.

Closing arguments could take place as early as Friday, or into next week.

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