Lebanon mayor accused of ‘intentional, fraudulent acts’ in house fire claim

Mark Messer, left, takes the oath of office as the mayor of Lebanon from City Attorney Mark Yurick. ED RICHTER/STAFF

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Mark Messer, left, takes the oath of office as the mayor of Lebanon from City Attorney Mark Yurick. ED RICHTER/STAFF

Messer has sued the insurance company that made the allegations

Lebanon Mayor Mark Messer and his family lost their home to a late-night fire nearly a year ago and had filed a lawsuit in Warren County against their insurance carrier, claiming breach of contract and bad faith, and seeking a declaratory judgment.

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.”

The Messers’ lawsuit filed in June in Warren County Common Pleas Court was moved July 28 to the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati.

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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.

The Lebanon Fire Division referred the fire investigation to the Ohio State Fire Marshal’s Office to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest because Messer was the city’s vice mayor at the time of the incident. Andy Ellinger, a spokesman for the State Fire Marshal, confirmed their investigation is continuing and had no updates to share Tuesday.

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.

Messer declined to comment on the litigation Monday night at a city council work session. He said in a joint statement from he and his wife, Jennifer, that they provided information to Allstate Insurance Company in an effort to rebuild their house and their life.

“Allstate refused every request we made to obtain information about the fire,” the Messers’ statement said. “Allstate has refused to honor their commitment to stand by their insured in times of tragedy. Because of Allstate’s failure to fulfill their contractual commitment, we were forced to file a lawsuit against Allstate for their breach of contract and bad claims handling.

“Only after they were sued, did Allstate respond in an effort to cover up their failure to protect their insured in this tragedy by formulating false and salacious allegations. We look forward to presenting this case in court and holding Allstate accountable to their insured,” the statement said.

Messer’s attorney, Matthew Brown, had no additional comments to the statement issued Monday night.

Attorneys for Allstate could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

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