Stutman Law’s client paid a sizable insurance claim after it’s insured’s luxury home in Idaho was severely damaged by fire on July 5, 2016. Shortly before the fire, a tenant at a neighboring property set off a significant amount of aerial fireworks at a party. Remnants of those fireworks were found in the vicinity of the fire scene and one firework was discovered on a neighboring property’s roof.
The fire damage to the home insured by Stutman Law’s client was extensive, causing the roof to collapse and precluding the investigators from determining the cause of the fire. Additionally, no eye witness could testify to seeing a firework land on the damaged home’s roof. Stutman thus had no direct evidence that the fire was caused by the fireworks. Moreover, the tenant who launched the fireworks was uninsured. Despite these hurdles, Stutman Law aggressively and creatively litigated the case against the neighboring property owner, who attended the party but purportedly did not launch the fireworks himself.
To favorably resolve this case, Stutman Law focused on circumstantial evidence regarding the cause of the fire. This included statements by independent witnesses who contradicted key facts alleged by the neighboring tenant and property owner, an analysis of the wind speeds and direction on the night of the fire, and photographs showing empty boxes and remnants of 150+ aerial fireworks at and around the properties following the fire. Stutman Law then relied upon a local ordinance prohibiting the “use” of aerial fireworks without a permit to argue that the property owner could be held legally responsible for the illegal fireworks usage by his tenant. Specifically, the uninsured tenant did not obtain any permit, and Stutman argued that the defendant property owner could be held liable for negligence per se because he allowed his property to be used to launch illegal fireworks in violation of the ordinance. Stutman Law also referenced a “concert of action” theory that permitted joint and several liability in arguing that the property owner could be held financially responsible for causing the fire, even if the defendant himself was not the person who physically launched the illegal fireworks. Stutman Law ultimately settled the case for a significant amount at a mediation following intensive discovery.