No Bad Faith Effective, Professional Arson Investigation Defeats Claims of Bad Faith.

AuthorZalma, Barry

* Plaintiffs Donald Lemon and Candice Lemon (the Lemons) sued State Farm Fire & Casualty Company (State Farm) because it alleged it breached an insurance contract, that State Farm acted in bad faith and that the Lemons are entitled to an award of punitive damages.

In Donald Lemon and Candice Lemon v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Company, No. C20-3018-LTS, United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Central Division (June 28, 2022) the court was asked to rule on motions for partial summary judgment.


This case arose out of an insurance dispute between the Lemons and State Farm regarding a claim the Lemons submitted after a fire destroyed their residence.

The Lemons had been married for roughly two years at the time of the fire and their relationship was at times turbulent. For example, law enforcement officers had responded to domestic disturbances at their home. On April 26, 2019 - less than one week before the fire - Candice called the Franklin County Sheriff's Office to advise that Donald had moved out of the residence and she was afraid he would "ransack" the place.

At the time of the fire, the couple was separated and proceeding to a divorce. While the Lemons deny their finances were dire, they admit they were seasonally behind on bills. Candice had inherited more than $100,000 in 2015, but the Lemons had spent all of that money by May 2019.

Candice provided inconsistent statements regarding whether Donald was at the house in the hours leading up to the fire. The day after the fire, she told a State Farm representative that Donald had been home roughly one hour before the fire to retrieve some of his fishing equipment. She later denied saying this. Donald denies being at the residence in the hours before the fire.

After the fire, the Lemons submitted a timely claim to State Farm. At the time of the fire, the home had a value of $76,900. The Lemons submitted a personal property inventory that totaled $173,137.57, although it is not clear that their home could accommodate the number of items claimed.

State Farm hired Independent Forensic Investigations Corporation (IFIC) to investigate the fire. Lonn Abeltins, an investigator with IFIC, traveled to the home on May 7, 2019, and June 12, 2019, to conduct his investigation. As part of his investigation, Abeltins collected four pieces of debris from the rubble and subsequently sent them to the Armstrong Forensic Laboratory to be tested for accelerants. One of the samples tested...

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