Darroch, Donna W. and Ferguson, Melissa J. Admissibility Of Prior Fires
and Other Insurance Claims In Civil Arson and Fraud Cases. The Insurance
Committee For Arson Control. Annual Meeting, January 21, 1998.
Abstract: This paper was presented at an annual conference of
the IAAI. It discusses the admissibility of prior fires and prior insurance
cases at a trial. The rules of evidence provide the standard for admitting
previous bad acts. The Federal rules state that evidence of other crimes
cannot be admissible to prove the character of a person. They may be admitted
in court to prove motive, opportunity, or intent. The judge must decide
whether the probative value of the evidence outweighs the danger of undue
prejudice. This article summarizes court cases that have made decisions
regarding this issue.
There are instances in which a court decided to admit previous acts into
evidence. In Auto-Owners Ins. V. Balwanz the judge admitted previous fires
as evidence because they were proof of motive, intent, plan, knowledge,
and identity. The Federal rules also state that evidence admitted in this
fashion must be accompanied by proof that the accused took part in the crime.
However, in the Balwanz, the plaintiff only had to provide proof that the
defendant participated in the fire and was not solely responsible.
In Hodge v. Allstate Ins. Co., Mr. Hodge revealed in an interview that
he had two prior fires. During his deposition, he admitted to having seven
prior fires. This evidence was admitted, and the court found in favor of
Allstate. The trial court ordered a new trial based on the conclusion that
the prior fires were wrongly admitted. In this trial, the jury found in
favor of the insureds. Allstate appealed this decision, claiming that the
previous fires were admitted correctly. This court ruled that the unexplained
origin of the fires made them inadmissible because they were irrelevant.
In general, the court may use their discretion to include or exclude
previous fires as evidence. Many courts permit ìother actî
evidence because arson cases are usually based on circumstantial evidence.
The courts will add the provision that there must be proof tying the alleged
arsonist to the previous fires.
For more information, contact:
State Farm Insurance Company
Phone: (404) 728-5400
Insurance Committee for Arson Control
3601 Vincennes Rd.
Indianapolis, IN 46268
Web Site: www.arsoncontrol.org