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Henriquez-Disla v. Allstate Property & Casualty Insurance Co.

United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

March 30, 2015




Plaintiffs have filed an omibus motion in limine in this breach of insurance contract case in which Defendant, Allstate, has filed a counterclaim for insurance fraud. In this memorandum, I will address each portion of Plaintiffs’ motion.

I. Areas of Agreement

Plaintiffs’ motion in limine and the response thereto reveal certain areas of agreement. Plaintiffs seek to preclude testimony from Laurel Mason, James Brady, the Philadelphia Police Department Forensic Science Division, Thomas Cipriano, and Philadelphia Emergency Fire Boardup, and also seek preclusion of their bank statements. In response, Allstate has stated that it does not intend to call any of these witnesses and will not present Plaintiffs’ bank statements. The parties have stipulated to the authenticity of the photographs taken by Mr. Cripriano and Philadelphia Emergency Fire Boardup. Therefore, Plaintiffs’ motion in these respects will be dismissed as moot.

II. Preliminary Instruction regarding Responsibility for Fire and Exaggeration of Claims

Plaintiffs seek a preliminary instruction that they were not responsible for the theft or fire and that they did not exaggerate any losses. In preparation for the trial, Allstate agreed that it does not allege that Plaintiffs set the fire and will not rely on suspicion of arson to deny the claim. However, Allstate did not agree that Plaintiffs were not responsible for the theft, and certainly did not agree that Plaintiffs did not exaggerate their losses. In responding to the Requests for Admissions, Allstate stated that it “lack[ed] knowledge or information to admit or deny” certain requests, including the identity of the thief, the identity of the arsonist, and information concerning the items allegedly stolen or damaged. Doc. 72-6. Such a response does not bar Allstate from presenting evidence to the jury concerning alleged misrepresentations that Plaintiffs made regarding this information and certainly does not warrant a jury instruction that Plaintiffs were not responsible for the theft or exaggerating their losses.

Plaintiffs also seek preclusion of cause and origin evidence, arguing that such evidence is irrelevant in light of Allstate’s admission that it is not relying on arson in denying the fire claim. Doc. 94 at 9. Defendant has agreed that it will not elicit any testimony implicating Plaintiffs in the arson and will not make any such argument. Doc. 105 at 5. However, I will not bar the testimony of the fire marshal regarding the incendiary nature of the fire and the suspicion of arson because the circumstances of the fire are relevant to the actions that Allstate took in investigating the claims, and because it provides perspective on the overall chain of events.

In an effort to eliminate any prejudice to Plaintiffs, I expect counsel to work together to draft an instruction to be presented to the jury at the appropriate time before or during the presentation of evidence explaining that Allstate does not allege that Plaintiffs set the fire or rely on suspicion that the Dislas set the fire to deny the claim. Similarly, I expect counsel to redact the reports contained in their exhibit binder which implicate the Dislas in any way. See, e.g., Exh. D4 at 0003 (referring to Mr. Henriquez as “[o]ne suspect in custody”).

III. Evidence of Misrepresentations not included in the Denial Letter

Plaintiffs next seek preclusion of evidence regarding any alleged misrepresentation that was not included in Allstate’s denial letter. Doc. 94 at 8-9. Defendant responds that Pennsylvania caselaw does not support such a limitation, and that its position on the claims and in the litigation has been open-ended to include any material misrepresentation. Doc. 105 at 5-7.

First, I note that the language of the denial letter is very broad.

The investigation conducted by Allstate has determined that among other things, you made misrepresentations of material facts material to the claim including but not limited to, facts relative to the Property, you and your wife’s locations and activities at or around the time of the fire, damage to the Property, stolen items, residence at the time of the fire, the whereabouts of certain individuals at the time of the fire and other inconsistent details.

Doc. 72-5 (Denial Letter) (emphasis added). At three points in this excerpt, Allstate included expansive language to cover other misrepresentations of fact. Additionally, Pennsylvania caselaw does not limit an insurer to the defenses listed in a denial letter.

[I]t is permissible to raise a defense in a pleading even though it was not stated in the rejection letter. Although it is better practice for an insurance company to state all its reasons for rejection in its rejection letter, failure to do so does not bar ...

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