Fraud Litigation

Circumstantial Evidence Prompts Providence Superior Court Jury to Reject Plaintiff’s Claims That His Home was Burglarized:
The plaintiff claimed that his automobile and its contents were stolen in Providence and his auto insurer paid him for that incident. Next, he alleged that the keys to his home and his electric overhead garage door opener had been taken with his car and that these “must have” been used by someone to enter and burglarize his home 3 days later. Neither the automobile nor any personal property were ever recovered. Our client (his homeowner’s insurance carrier) was asked to pay an additional $50,000, but contended that circumstantial evidence indicated that neither the vehicle theft nor the burglary occurred, the claims were exaggerated, and that the plaintiff failed to cooperate and made material misrepresentations during its investigation of the thefts. John Reilly argued the case for the insurer and a Providence County Superior Court jury agreed after 3 hours of deliberations. There was no appeal. Sutton v. Peerless Insurance Co., No. PC93-0015.

Rhode Island Supreme Court Rules Homeowner’s Insurance Policy Does Not Provide Coverage for Insured’s Repeated Sexual Molestation of a Child:
Sebastaio Viegas pled guilty to six felony charges for sexual molestation of his grandniece on various occasions over a 6 year period. Throughout that time he had a homeowner’s policy of insurance with our client. The parents of his victimized grandniece filed a civil action against Viegas for damages. Among other things, they alleged that Viegas had been “negligent” in his actions, resulting in his grandniece suffering emotional distress. The “negligence” claims were apparently included to try to get insurance coverage and have our client pay for Viegas’ disgusting behavior. We filed a declaratory judgment action, seeking to have it declared that under these circumstances there should be no insurance coverage available to pay for Viegas’ acts. A judge of the Superior Court denied us the relief we sought. On certiorari appeal to the state Supreme Court, it was held tht the fact that the allegations in the complaint were described as “negligence” was of no consequence. Acts such as this were inherently intentional in nature and the policy excluded coverage for acts that were intended or expected by the insured. It stated that “a plaintiff, by describing his or her cat to be a dog cannot simply by that descriptive designation cause the cat to bark.” So our client did not have to defend Viegas and did not have to pay for his acts. Peerless Ins. Co. v. Viegas, 667 A.2d 785.

Providence Federal Jury Agrees That Circumstantial Evidence Shows Plaintiff Burned Own Home For Profit, Denies Recovery From Insurer:
The plaintiffs were visiting relatives in New Hampshire when a fire extensively damaged their home in Rhode Island. Police and fire officials discovered that gasoline had been ignited in several areas of the house and ruled out forcible entry, but felt unable to bring any charges. We contended that the plaintiffs’ financial condition was deteriorating before the fire, that the New Hampshire trip presented an opportunity for the plaintiff husband to arrange for the burning, that an early (next day) report that there were also more than $10,000 of missing or stolen items could not have been discovered until several days after the fire, and that although the plaintiffs could not account for all door keys, the front door key suddenly appeared several days after the fire in an obvious place previously inspected by many fire and police officials. The totality of these circumstances resulted in John Reilly obtaining a jury verdict that the policy was voided due to arson and material misrepresentation by plaintiff husband. A motion for new trial was denied by Judge Torres in the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island and no appeal taken. Morales v. Peerless Insurance Co., No. 94-264T.