State Fire Marshal cannot determine cause of 2021 fire at Lebanon mayor’s house

LEBANON —The Ohio State Fire Marshall’s final report of an August 2021 fire at the home of Lebanon’s mayor concludes a cause cannot be determined.

In her report, requested through a Dayton Daily New public records request, state fire marshal Investigator Karen Corwin wrote, “Based upon the information known at this time, and the inability to rule out accidental causes of this fire in regards to the electric in the structure and electrical appliances present and in use in the area of origin, the cause of the fire remains to be undetermined. Additionally, an accidental or intentional human act is unable to be ruled out as a cause of the fire.

“This case is now closed and can be reopened in the future should additional information become available.”

The State Fire Marshal was requested to investigate the fire at Messer’s home to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest if the Lebanon Fire Department investigated a fire at the then- vice mayor’s council home.

Corwin said based on the fire patterns observed, information available at the scene and the scene examination of the area of origin of the fire is in, at, or near the south side of the residence in the dining room.

She said at the time of the report, no criminal intent or motive was able to be identified. Sources of electric and electrical appliances, such as the air scrubber, were present and in use in, or near, the area of origin. A human act, whether accidental or intentional, could not be ruled out.

“Based on my experience, training, and education, witness observations, information at the time of the investigation and scene examination, and the inability to eliminate accidental and intentional causes present at the time of the fire, the cause is classified as an undetermined fire,” Corwin said in her report.

Messer hadn’t seen the report Thursday night and declined to comment on the state fire marshal’s investigation report until he spoke with his attorney. Messer and his wife Jennifer have a lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati against their insurance carrier Allstate Insurance.

“Mark and Jennifer Messer’s life was turned upside down when a fire tragically and inexplicably destroyed their home in August of 2021,” said Matthew S. Brown, a Columbus-based attorney representing the Messers. “Gratefully nobody was injured in the fire, but they lost everything they owned. The closure of the investigation into the cause of the fire provides Mark and Jennifer with no closure about what happened that terrible night. What the investigation does reveal, though, is that there was no basis whatsoever for Mark and Jennifer to be forced to file a lawsuit against their insurance company to receive the protection Allstate Insurance Company promised. We look forward to continuing the lawsuit against Allstate to hold them accountable for their failure to fulfill their promise to protect their insured in times of tragic loss.”

The Messers filed their lawsuit in Warren County Common Pleas Court against Allstate, claiming breach of contract and bad faith, and seeking a declaratory judgment. That case was moved to U.S. District Court in Cincinnati on July 28, 2022.

They claimed their insurance carrier, Allstate Vehicle and Property Insurance Company, was dragging its feet and delayed claims handling, according to the lawsuit.

The insurance carrier, Allstate, which investigated the loss of the home and personal property that was destroyed in the fire, says in denying the claims that they were the result of the Messers’ “intentional and fraudulent acts and, as a result, the policy contract is invalid.”

Around midnight on Aug. 14, 2021, the Messers’ house at 25 W. Orchard Ave. caught fire. The house and the personal property inside were destroyed as a result. In court documents, the Messers provided a sworn statement in proof of loss of at least $506,417.

In a June 29, 2022, letter to the Messers, Allstate acknowledged the lawsuit filed in Warren County Common Pleas Court.

The letter said Allstate had concluded its investigation of the loss and damage from the fire and “determined the policy does not provide coverage for your Claim because (1) the intentional act exclusion operates to preclude coverage, (2) you misrepresented and/or concealed information material to Allstate’s investigation, and (3) you breached your duty to cooperate.”

“The evidence Allstate obtained through its investigation indicates it is more likely than not the subject fire was caused by the intentional acts of or at the direction of an insured person and the resulting loss was the reasonably expected and/or intended result of such acts,” the letter said. “In light of that determination, the above Policy provision operates to exclude coverage for your claim.”

Allstate said the policy contains a provision relevant to misrepresentation, fraud, or concealment. It also said the Messers did not cooperate with Allstate’s investigation in obtaining various documents and other information.

A message was left for comment late Thursday afternoon for Allstate’s legal team.

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