State Farm alleges property owner intentionally started fire

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Nov 21, 2018

State Farm argues that Desoto property owners intentionally started a fire after the insurer was sued for denying their claim.

Heather Brinkley filed her complaint on Sept. 27 against State Farm Fire and Casualty Company.

According to the complaint, Brinkley alleges that on Feb. 9, 2017, a property located at 14146 Timberline Drive in Desoto, Mo., caught fire. She alleges the fire caused significant damage to the structure of the property as well as damage to personal property.

The Desoto Rural Fire Protection District arrived at the scene and called the Missouri State Fire Marshal to investigate the cause of the fire, the suit states.

The fire marshal concluded that “the fire originated on the upper level in the southeast corner of the living room.” The fire marshal also stated that the fire was accidental “due to the inability to eliminate the electrical outlet as a possible cause.”

The matter was not referred to any law enforcement agencies for criminal prosecution.

“Nonetheless, State Farm, after being presented with a claim for damages by Heather, stated the policy did not cover Heather’s damages because ‘false statements were made with the intent to conceal or misrepresent material facts’ in Heather’s presentation of the claim, and because Heather’s losses were the result of an ‘intentional act’ by an insured person,” the complaint states.

The suit alleges State Farm told the Missouri Department of Consumer Affairs that its investigation revealed that the fire was actually intentionally started in the basement when combustible materials were placed in the basement ceiling joists.

Brinkley’s complaint further alleges that State Farm’s investigation “revealed that it had a good basis to deny” the claim because the plaintiff owed $115,000 in tax debt. State Farm also allegedly relied on the allegation that Brinkley’s husband was in the vicinity of the property less than 45 minutes before the fire was discovered.

Brinkley claims she was insured under the policy for a dwelling policy limit of $161,000, personal property limits of $120,750, and reasonable expenses for debris removal.

The independent insurance adjuster valued the plaintiff’s dwelling damages at $194,487.33, the replacement cost of her personal property at $54,885.39, and the total cost of debris removal at $3,223.34.

“Because the fire was not intentionally set, and because there is no other applicable exclusion for coverage, State Farm breached its obligation to fully compensate Heather for her damages,” the complaint states.

State Farm answered the complaint on Nov. 5 through attorney Patrick Cloud of Heyl Royster Voelker & Allen PC in Edwardsville, admitting that it concluded that the fire was intentionally set. 

In its affirmative defenses, State Farm argues that the fire was set by and at the direction of the plaintiff and her spouse, Baeu Brinkley, for the purpose of obtaining insurance benefits.

State Farm further argues that a Nov. 6, 2017, letter to the Missouri Department of Consumer Affairs states that an investigation “established the fire was intentionally set when combustible materials placed in the basement ceiling joists came into contact with open candle flames.”

Brinkley seeks damages in excess of $50,000, plus costs. She is represented by Jeremy A. Gogel of The Gogel Law Firm in St. Louis.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number 18-L-630

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