Farm Bureau loses appeal of homeowners' fire insurance claim
John Haley and Linda Haley sued their homeowner insurance company, Farm Bureau, after it refused to pay for fire damage to their home and contents. After a trial before a jury, the Haleys were awarded about $50,000.00 in personal property damages and $132,000.00 in damageto the structure. Farm Bureau appealed, making broad allegations of fraud and misrepresentation against the homeowners. The Court noted that the insurer took multiple statements from the insureds (as allowed under Michigan law) and that the inconsistencies attributed to John Haley by Farm Bureau could readily be explained by confusion and sloppy questioning. It specifically noted that the inconsistencies did not display an intent to deceive and were not contradicted by the evidence adduced at trial.
The trial judge and the Court of Appeals refused to disturb the jury's verdict, pointing out that Farm Bureau had thoroughly examined the issues before the jury, which had concluded that the policy should not be voided based on the evidence Farm Bureau considered damning. Farm Bureau also asked the Appeals Court to overturn the verdict for lack of expert testimony, despite the fact that it was supported by one "cause and origin" burn expert, two firefighters with a combined 50 years of experience, and one public adjuster with twenty years' experience. The court also noted that the conclusionn that the fire was "unintentional" was fully corroborated by thee firefighter's discovery of heat gun near the washing machine where John Haley indicated he was attempting to thaw a frozen pipe. Haley had given the fire department this explanation at the time they responded to the fire.