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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:
Donna Darroch
State Farm Insurance Company
Phone: (404) 728-5400


Insurance Committee for Arson Control
3601 Vincennes Rd.
Indianapolis, IN 46268
Phone: 317-876-6226
Web Site:

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