Pubdate: Thu, 03 Mar 2011
Source: Windsor Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2011 The Windsor Star
Author: Trevor Wilhelm, The Windsor Star


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

"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

"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
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.