In this compelling trial, the jury denied the plaintiff’s claim relating to fire damage on the basis of a willfully false statement in the Proof of Loss.
Joyce Pinder, the plaintiff, owned a home that was destroyed by a fire, where her daughter Cindy had been residing. When the gas supply to the home was cut off, Cindy Pinder used wood and electric heaters to keep the house warm.
On the night of the fire, she had one log in the fireplace when she left at 5:30 p.m., and three electric heaters on in the rest of the house.
The insurer’s counsel asked the jury to draw an inference that Cindy had been using the portable electric heaters as her primary source of heat, which the jury accepted.
The jury was left with the question of whether the plaintiffs made willfully false statements regarding their lost contents within their Proof of Loss and schedules.
The jury found that the plaintiffs had made willfully false statements with respect to 39 of the 68 items. The plaintiffs’ lawyer brought a motion to have these findings struck as being perverse.
The court found that there was, in fact, evidence to allow the jury to make an inference that Cindy was using the portable electric heaters as her primary source of heat.
Furthermore, with respect to the willfully false statements, the court recognized that an exaggerated claim wherein the claimant is engaging in puffery or attempting to establish a negotiating position does not impute fraud and coverage is not avoided (Brandiferri v. Wawanesa, 2012 ONSC 2206).
The jury was instructed that a willfully false statement is one that a person makes:
- Knowing it to be false;
- Without belief of its truth; or
- Recklessly without caring whether it was true or not.
The court found that it was open to the jury to:
- Believe none or all of Cindy’s evidence as to contents.
- Or, to find that she shut her eyes to the facts or purposely refrained from inquiring into them.
Additionally, it was open to the jury to find that Cindy made statements recklessly without caring whether they were true or not. The jury did not have to find that she intended to deceive.
The court found that the willfully false statements do not constitute imperfect compliance, and that relief from forfeiture was not an option.
As such, the court ordered judgment in favour of the insurer, the defendant, in accordance with the jury’s verdict.
The article in this client update provides general information and should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion.
This decision is cited as Pinder v. Farmers’ Mutual Insurance Company (Lindsay), 2018 ONSC 2910 (CanLII)