Jury sides with insurer in blaze

A federal jury wasn't convinced a Burke County couple burned down one of their homes, but the jury did decide the homeowners misled the insurance company.

Tuesday's verdict in U.S. District Court means Allstate Insurance Co. doesn't have to pay a $80,000 claim filed by Thomas and Janice Mitchell.

The Mitchells' home on Creek Road in Girard was damaged by a Jan. 14, 2006, fire and destroyed by a second fire on Feb. 18, 2006.

Allstate denied the Mitchells' claim for damages, alleging the fires were intentionally set and they were the obvious suspects. Allstate also contended the Mitchells were not living in the home at the time of the fires, violating a condition of the contract.

The Mitchells countered that their purchase of a second home did not mean they had abandoned the Creek Road home. Mr. Mitchell was living there at the time of the fires, their attorney Richard Ingram argued in closing.

The Mitchells have worked steady since high school and paid their bills on time, Mr. Ingram said. No one but Allstate questioned their honesty, he said.

"Somebody with a lot of malice did this," he said.

Allstate's attorney Joseph H. Barrow argued to the jury that the company wasn't suggesting the Mitchells were in financial ruin.

But getting $80,000 for a 14-year-old trailer home, "That's motive," Mr. Barrow said.

No one has been prosecuted for the fire.

According to testimony during the two-day federal trial, a neighbor of the Mitchells' had a motor home set on fire the night their property was destroyed.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.