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In December 1991, a man was hired to torch a house in the San Diego area. After extinguishing all the pilot lights he could find, he proceeded to pour gasoline throughout the house. Unfortunately, he had forgotten one – the pilot light in the wall heater. As he headed outside to light a match, the gasoline fumes reached the single flame with the predictable result. Kaboom!
A neighbor reported that he had witnessed a man come flying out of the house, backwards and at high velocity. The unidentified man tore off his flaming clothes, got into a vehicle and took off down the street. Fire investigators notified the local medical facilities to be on the lookout for a man with serious burns.
Meanwhile, the arsonist arrived home, many miles from the scene of the explosion, jumped from his truck, ran to the backyard, and dived into the swimming pool. Several hours later, he was taken to the hospital after his wife called the paramedics.
At first the man declined to say how he had been burned. Later, he told the sheriff that the owner of the house had hired him to clean the carpets and that the gasoline he was using caused the explosion. But investigators had found gasoline poured throughout the house, even where there was no carpet. When authorities filed criminal charges against the arsonist, he pled guilty to one count of arson and agreed to testify against the homeowner who had hired him.
The case set off a flurry of claims and lawsuits. The homeowner filed a claim with his carrier. It was denied. He then sued the carrier for bad
faith. He lost. The carpet cleaner/arsonist filed a claim against the homeowner’s insurance. It was denied. The homeowner sued the carpet cleaner/arsonist for negligence. He won – since the arsonist was unable to defend himself without incriminating himself.
As of this writing, the homeowner has been arrested and charged with one count each of arson, conspiracy to commit arson, insurance fraud. and conspiracy to commit insura ne
fraud. The arsonist is licking his wounds and contemplating his future.
Our thankcs go out to Steve Thompson of American States Insurance, Costa Mesa, California, for sharing this issue’s Stupid Claimant Trick.