A B.C. Supreme Court judge sided with an elderly West Kelowna man whose insurer tried to deny him a $425,000 claim after his house burned down.
George Apostolidis, who is described in court documents as an illiterate widower, owned a home on Alexander Place. On Sept. 22, 2015 he and his new partner had gone to Penticton for the night and the house caught fire.
The home-destroying blaze was deemed an arson when an accelerant was found and Canadian Northern Shield Insurance Company, denied coverage of $425,000.
In their estimation, it was “more than likely” the 76-year-old intentionally caused the fire himself or hired someone else to do so.
In a written decision, however, Justice Ian Crawford Meiklem combed through the argument of the insurance company and found it to be lacking.
To start, when investigators went to the house they saw signs of mischief.
Graffiti reading “satan is king,” “burn in hell,” “die” and “666” on the concrete patio adjacent to the swimming pool, as well as “666” on the retaining wall adjacent to the driveway.
There were no signs of forced entry to any of the doors, but a padlocked gate at the back of the house had been broken open. Red paint smears were found on the locking lever of a sliding glass door on the lower level near the pool area and on the adjacent light switch cover.
“The plaintiff’s overnight stay in Penticton means that it is virtually a certainty that the plaintiff did not commit the arson himself,” writes Justice Meiklem.
“It could be said that hypothetically the opportunity to hire a third party arsonist is available to any insured with unsavoury connections … In this case, there was no evidence connecting the plaintiff to anyone who might be the arsonist, despite investigations having been conducted by both the RCMP and the defendant.”
The insurance company also argued that the elderly man had an “obvious financial motive to have his house destroyed by fire.”
With the death of his wife in March 2014, he lost the person who was looking after his finances and quickly discovered that he was left with only regular income from pensions totalling approximately $1,000 per month and his savings.
His savings as of September 2014 were approximately $64,000 USD, and had been reduced by September 2015 to approximately $30,000 USD. His monthly mortgage and loan payments were $4,500.
Apostolidis’s taxable income in 2014 was $11,233.
“The plaintiff denied that he was selling his house for financial reasons, but because at 7,000 square-feet it was far too large for himself as a widower,” said Meiklem.
Apostolidis also planned to relocate to Hawaii, where he had previously lived and owned restaurants. This plan had been in place even before the death of his wife.
Apostolidis had also argued that he had equity in his home of approximately $200,000, he was up-to-date on all his financial obligations and had enough money to continue to service his mortgages and other expenses.
Altogether the savings would only allow him to service his debts for another six months, unless he obtained a new source of income or sold his house.
“If neither of those events occurred, he would be in a desperate financial situation at the end of six months,” said Meiklem.
“Obviously selling the house would probably have been more financially beneficial than any insurance settlement following either a total loss of the house or a partial loss. One might think that having obtained an accepted offer after two price drops over several months of market exposure, Mr. Apostolidis would be optimistic that he had found the market, rather than pessimistic enough to commit arson. If his motivation was to simply free himself from the mortgage payments, he of course had the obvious option of lowering the list price further. In his circumstances, he would have been the quintessential motivated seller.”
Meiklem ordered the insurance company to award Apostolidis his claim along with costs.
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