The Burning Bed
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When an Obvious Arson is Just an Accident
This is a Fictionalized True Crime Story of Suspected Insurance Fraud from an Expert who explains why Insurance Fraud is a “Heads I Win, Tails You Lose” situation for Insurers. The stories help to Understand How Insurance Fraud in America is Costing Everyone who Buys Insurance Thousands of Dollars Every year and Why Insurance Fraud is Safer and More Profitable for the ­­­Perpetrators than any Other Crime.
Sometimes, what looks like an obvious arson for profit turns out to be an accidental fire. The insured lived near the ocean within the city limits of San Luis Obispo. Recently divorced she lived alone for many months. The divorce had caused her much emotional trauma. After twenty-five years of marriage, her husband announced he could not live with her anymore and moved out.
She sought treatment for her depression. She visited with multiple psychiatrists and psychologists, who only made her life more miserable.
Shortly before the divorce became final, walking aimlessly through an older part of town, she happened upon an occult bookstore. She bought a book on the power of the mind. The good book gave her a life purpose. She began to apply the principles stated in the book and found peace for the first time since her divorce. She became a regular customer of the book store. A friendship grew between her and the owner, who introduced her to others in San Luis Obispo interested in the occult and powers of the mind.
She applied for, and received, a divinity degree from the Universal Life Church. She bought her first crystal ball that she used to concentrate her psychic energies after receiving the divinity degree. The occult, the powers of the mind and magic were the center of her life. She had a purpose and was no longer distressed by the loss of her husband.
When the divorce was final and she gained absolute title to the land and house the book store owner moved into the house with her. As they, and their friends, concentrated their psychic energies, they became convinced that a major earthquake would strike California and destroy all who lived in San Luis Obispo.
Her concentrated energies, directed through several different crystal balls, convinced her that the only safe place was a small community in Northern Tennessee. She put her house on the market and accepted the first reasonable offer of sale.
Shortly before escrow closed, while the insured and her book store owner lover, slept in the master bedroom, a fire broke out in the second bedroom of the house. Awakened by a sound like a heavy rainstorm, they discovered the fire and escaped naked through the bedroom window into their backyard. Neighbors called the fire department who quickly extinguished the fire after all its contents and most of the structure were destroyed.
Claim was made by the insured to her insurer and by the buyer, separately, to its insurer. They had never considered establishing who would have the risk of loss during escrow and, therefore, both maintained separate insurance policies with separate insurers.
The investigation by the fire department revealed that the fire was suspicious. No specific cause could be found for the fire. It did burn very hot. There were marks on the floor in the second bedroom that seemed to show a flammable liquid was spread. The insurer was concerned. It demanded the examinations under oath of the insured and her book store owner lover. Both testified clearly, concisely and honestly that they had no idea why the fire occurred.
Both testified, with vigor, concerning their belief in their psychic powers. Both denied adamantly any knowledge of the cause of the fire and explained why they sold the house because of what they believed was the oncoming major earthquake. They explained that they had purchased a house near Nashville because of the low taxes and the stable land below all of Tennessee.
The claim made by them was unusual. Neither the adjuster nor counsel had ever received a claim for the loss by fire of three crystal balls. The value of the psychic paraphernalia was difficult to show. The fire department was convinced that an arson had taken place, but could not understand why the insured and her lover had started the fire nude.
The insurer conducted a thorough investigation and retained the services of an experienced fire cause and origin investigator. He sifted through the debris and found in the debris an electrically operated bed, equipped with a polyurethane foam mattress. The investigator advised the insurer that, after examining the bed and after reviewing the testimony of the insured and her lover at the examination under oath, it was his conclusion that the fire was the result of a short circuit in the bed motor which ignited the highly flammable (and now banned) polyurethane foam mattress. He explained that polyurethane foam, when heat is applied to it, liquefies and burns vigorously. The liquefied polyurethane foam flows on floor surfaces and leaves a trail similar to that left by the spreading of a flammable petrochemical accelerant.
The mystery solved; the insurer paid the insured the loss she incurred to her personal property. The two insurers split the cost of rebuilding the structure. The insured and her lover used the proceeds of the sale of the house and the insurance claim to move to the house they had found in Tennessee.
They now live in a large home on ten acres of land where they have gathered with them other believers in the occult and the power of the mind. Since both the insured and her lover were ministers of the Universal Life Church, they performed their own wedding and are living content, spreading the word of the power of the mind. Their wedding ceremony was interrupted by an earthquake from the New Madrid fault registering 3.2 on the Richter scale. Since they were Californian’s the two slept through, and never felt, the minor earthquake.
What appeared to be an obvious arson claim, with insureds who were far from average, turned out to be an accidental fire that resulted in an effective subrogation action by the insurer against the manufacturer of the bed. The insureds settled down to avoid a California earthquake on the cusp of the New Madrid fault.
Adapted from my book “Insurance Fraud Costs Everyone” available from as a paperback or a Kindle book
(c) 2023 Barry Zalma & ClaimSchool, Inc.
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