[cifnmedia] Insurance Company Sues Ohio Fire Dept

  • From: Sean & Kimberly Aaron <cifn@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: CIFN LIST <cifnmedia@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 15 Jun 2004 04:40:49 -0700 (PDT)

Insurance Company Sues Ohio Fire Dept; Company Not Happy With Firefighters 
Courtesy of The Madison Press 

A Baltimore, Ohio-based insurance company was forced to pay after a 2003 house 

Apparently, the company believes the Jefferson Township Fire Department is to 

Farmers Insurance, of Ohio has sued the Jefferson Township Fire Department for 
its handling of a Thursday, Dec. 4, fire at the home of George and Beth Staton, 
6118 North Road, West Jefferson. 

"The owner or the insurance company was apparently not happy with our 
performance," said Jefferson Township Fire Department Chief Bill Houk. 

The suit, filed Thursday, April 29, alleges that "defendants (JTFD and 12 
firefighters individually named in the suit) failed to perform their services 
at subject property in a professional manner including, but not limited to, 
failing to take adequate steps to ensure that damages were minimized, running 
out of water to extinguish the blaze and failing to utilize close resources as 
an alternative water supply." 

The fire started in the attached garage, where George Staton was welding on a 
car about 4:30 p.m. The day after the fire, JTFD Chief Bill Houk said George 
Staton believed a spark flew from the welder onto a car seat. 

George Staton attempted to use a fire extinguisher to douse the fire, then went 
outside to get a garden hose to continue the effort, but was unable to enter 
the garage again, Houk said. 

The garage was fully engulfed in flames and the fire was spreading to the house 
when firefighters from JTFD arrived at the scene. The car in the garage was 
destroyed. A car in the driveway also was destroyed. A third vehicle, also in 
the driveway, was heavily damaged. 

The house and its attached garage were heavily damaged. Firefighters remained 
on the scene three hours and returned an hour later in response to a report 
that the fire had rekindled. They returned to the scene shortly after 7 a.m. 
the following day to deal with another rekindle. 

Houk was contacted about the suit. He would not comment about the specifics of 
the fire. 

Personnel from eight area fire departments assisted units from JTFD. 

Farmers Insurance provided coverage for the Statons at the time of the fire. 
The company filed suit, seeking a minimum of $185,000, from the fire department 
and the individual firefighters. 

"Jefferson Township Fire Department knew or should have known that the 
individual firefighters dispatched to Mr. and Mrs. Station's home did not 
possess the necessary and/or requisite skills to extinguish the fire and 
minimize the amount of damages sustained to the Staton home," according to the 

Friday, Madison County Court of Common Pleas Judge Robert Nichols ruled to 
dismiss claims against the actual fire department, but did not dismiss claims 
against the firefighters, including Houk and Assistant Fire Chief Paul (Buck) 
Van Horn. 

According to the Ohio Revised Code a political subdivision, such as a township, 
in most instances is immune from liability in civil cases. Individual employees 
of the political subdivision are not immune. 

The suit alleges the firefighters handled the fire improperly and that their 
handling of the fire increased the amount of the claim the insurance company 
was forced to pay. 

"Defendant firefighters... individually and/or as employees of the Jefferson 
Township Fire Department, performed their professional firefighting 
duties/services in a reckless, willful and or wanton manner through their 
actions or omissions," according to the suit. 

"As a direct and proximate result of the reckless, willful and/or wanton 
actions and/or omissions of the defendant firefighters, individually and/or as 
employees of the Jefferson Township Fire Department, Plaintiff's insured 
sustained substantial damages." 

W. Charles Curley, attorney for the fire department, also represents the 
individual firefighters. He declined to comment about the specifics of the 
fire, but said he is confident the court will find his clients did not act with 
malice, recklessness or wanton neglect. 

He filed a letter with the court, seeking sanctions against the insurance 
company for having sought damages against the township. 

"We believe that it (the township's immunity) is so clear in the law, that we 
believe the suit against the township was a frivolous lawsuit and the insurance 
company and their attorneys ought to have to reimburse the township for 
attorney's fees and costs," Curley said. 

Curley said he is not seeking a specific dollar amount. 

No court date has been set for the suit. 

Repeated calls to the homeowner and the insurance company's attorney, Andrew 
Malone, were not returned. 

Sean A. Aaron (CIFN*1)
Central Illinois Fire Network

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