• July 9, 2015
House Fire at Night by John M. Cropper

House Fire at Night by John M. Cropper

In March 2011, a fire of unknown origin destroyed a house located at 724 Margaret Street in Chatfield, Minnesota. Appellants Allison Stoehr and her father, Michael O’Byrne, were the named insureds on Spring Valley Mutual Insurance Company’s home insurance policy covering the house.

Bradley Kullot, a claims adjuster for Spring Valley testified about his history with O’Byrne. Kullot stated that he was in charge of processing a previous claim that O’Byrne’s wife filed with Spring Valley in April 2009 when a fire of unknown origin destroyed their home. It would seem Mr. Kullot was a bit suspicious. He undertook an investigation.

After learning that the cause of the fire was being investigated, O’Byrne immediately proceeded to personally demolish the wreckage by operating a forklift and “ramming” it repeatedly into the house over the protest of a third-party who had been hired by Spring Valley to secure the property.

Not cool. Kind of incriminating, no? Or, at least, “bad optics”? Few will be surprised that the jury “zero’d” the plaintiffs under the circumstances. And the Court of Appeals agreed, concluding that the plaintiffs were not entitled to any recovery against the insurer.

Surprisingly, O’Byrne’s counsel, David VanDerHeyden got o’byrnt twice in a single day, it seems…

On the same day this week that the Minnesota Court of Appeals rejected the insurance coverage claim of Michael O’Byrne, et al., it did away, in large part, with an appeal of other O’Byrnes in Fillmore County District Court, as well: Robert and Beverly O’Byrne, also represented by attorney VanDerHeyden.

This was a garden variety mechanics’ lien case – that is, a case in which someone built something for someone and the buyer, for whatever reason(s), failed to pay for the construction. These O’Byrnes fared only a little better than attorney VanDerHeyden’s house-burnt O’Byrnes. In their favor, the Court of Appeals affirmed the limited award of costs to the mechanic’s lien claimants who won on summary judgment but reversed summary judgment in favor of one of the several lien claimants.

All told, not a banner week for the O’Byrnes, it seems, or their lawyer.

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