Pubdate: Thu, 03 Mar 2011 Source: Windsor Star (CN ON) Copyright: 2011 The Windsor Star Contact: http://www.canada.com/windsorstar/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/501 Author: Trevor Wilhelm, The Windsor Star TENANT BLOWS UP HOUSE, OWNERS ON HOOK Insurer Doesn't Have to Pay, Court Rules A couple who unwittingly rented their house to an illicit drug producer have lost a lengthy court battle with their insurance company after a tenant blew the place up while cooking hash oil. Ontario's Court of Appeal has shot down an attempt by Valentino and Anne Pietrangelo to overturn a previous ruling that they weren't entitled to an insurance payout. "We're devastated because we had absolutely nothing to do with this fire," Anne Pietrangelo said Wednesday. "We're innocent. We paid our insurance premium. We're supposed to be protected and the law of Canada has awarded to the big insurance company. Not only we have lost the house, which was to be our retirement income, we now have fees to pay. The innocent are not being protected." The house, on Mickle Drive in Amherstburg, was destroyed Jan. 30, 2006, when Michael Arquette tried to cook hash in the bathroom. In 2008, Arquette received a three-month jail sentence to serve on weekends for producing an illegal substance. The judge sent him to jail because he had a previous conviction for trafficking narcotics. Arquette also received a 12-month conditional sentence, which amounted to house arrest, for arson damaging property. Police arrested Arquette Jan. 30, 2006, after the explosion. He was using butane to heat cannabis resin. The lack of ventilation caused a buildup of gas and an explosion. The force of the blast knocked the house walls off the foundation. It also started a fire. Arquette suffered seconddegree burns to 20 per cent of his body. Another man was also hurt. Charges against the second person were dropped. The Pietrangelos filed a proof of loss claim under their residential insurance, according to Court of Appeal documents. Gore Mutual Insurance Company investigated the claim and denied it based on an exclusion clause in the policy exempting the company from paying damages caused in the processing or manufacture of marijuana. The homeowners launched a lawsuit in an attempt to force the claim. The trial judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying Gore Mutual was entitled to rely on the exclusion clause. The Pietrangelos appealed on three arguments. They argued that the exclusion clause shouldn't apply if they had no knowledge of or involvement in what was going on in the house. They said they shouldn't be expected to pay for wreckage caused by the criminal acts of a third party and that the exclusion clause "exacts a penalty" on them even though they are innocent. They also argued that the trial judge ignored the "clear language of the insurers notice" that the clause was in relation to marijuana grow houses. "We would reject each of these submissions," was the response of the appeal court judges. The Court of Appeal ruled that the trial judge made no error in his interpretations of the exclusion clause. "The issue in the case was not whether the exclusion clause was unfair, but whether Mr. Arquette's activities that night were captured by the clause," said insurance company lawyer Pino Cianfarani. "The other thing I'd like to comment on is that, as the trial judge and now the Court of Appeal have said, there are certain risks that insurance companies are not prepared to cover." Pietrangelo doubted she and her husband could afford to pursue any other legal options. Her husband was a carpenter and tool and die worker. He's been laid off for two years and unemployment benefits have run out. She said they also have to pay the insurance company's legal fees, and the town forced them to pay the costs of demolishing what was left of the property. "It costs a lot of money and we don't have it," said Pietrangelo. "There's unemployment involved. We just don't have it. The innocent are punished. It's not fair. "It's not a good time. What can you do? It's frustrating. We're just devastated." - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.