BURNING INSURED PROPERTY

BURNING INSURED PROPERTY

This post will answer the following questions on the crime of burning insured property in order to defraud its insurer:

  • What does Commonwealth law say on the crime of burning insured property?
  • What does the Commonwealth have to prove in order to prove a defendant guilty of the offense of burning insured property?
  • What are other relevant factors that courts can consider in determining if a defendant has committed the offense of burning insured property?
  • Is a defendant always legally responsible for burning insured property when he or she fails to extinguish a fire?

What does Commonwealth law say on the crime of burning insured property?

Commonwealth law states:

“Whoever, willfully and with intent to defraud or injure the insurer, sets fire to, attempts to set fire to, causes to be burned, aids, counsels or procures the burning of a building [or] any goods, wares, merchandise or other personal property, belonging to himself or another, and which are at the time insured against loss or damage by fire, shall be punished…”

In other words, if a defendant willfully and with intent does any of the following acts to defraud or injure an insurer, (ONE OR MORE):

  • Sets fire to
  • Attempts to set fire to
  • Causes to be burned
  • Aids, counsels, or procures the burning of

…any of the following (ONE OR MORE):

  • Goods
  • Wares
  • Merchandise
  • Other personal property

…belonging to himself or herself or another, and which are at the time insured against loss or damage by fire, will be punished.
Note that burning insured property is a different crime than burning personal property.

 What does the Commonwealth have to prove in order to prove a defendant guilty of the offense of burning insured property?

 In order to prove a defendant guilty of the offense of burning insured property, the Commonwealth must prove all of the following beyond a reasonable doubt (ALL):

  • That the defendant set fire to; attempted to set fire to; caused to be burned; or aided, counseled or procured the burning of, a building or personal propertybelonging to himself or herself or someone else
  • That at the time of the alleged incident, the property was insured against loss or damage by fire
  • That the defendant acted with the specific intent to injure or defraud the insurer

Note that there is a fourth element to the offense. If the defendant is charged with attempting to burn insured property:

  • That the defendant took some overt act toward carrying out such burning, and which came reasonably close to actually carrying it out

What are other relevant factors that courts can consider in determining if a defendant has committed the offense of burning insured property?

 Other factors that courts can consider in determining if a defendant has committed the offense of burning insured property include (ONE OR MORE):

  • Over-insurance
  • Financial distress
  • Failure to report the fire
  • False statements during the investigation of the incident in question
  • Whether the defendant was an insurance beneficiary*
  • Who has accessibility to the burned object or objects
  • Positioning of the object or objects burned
  • Whether or not the insurance claim was exaggerated
  • Where defendant was at the time of the fire

*Note that whether the defendant receives a direct benefit to the defendant is not a necessary element of the offense

Note that the introduction of insurance policy is not mandatory when there is testimony that property is indeed insured.

Is a defendant always legally responsible for burning insured property when he or she fails to extinguish a fire?

The intent to defraud an insurer does not necessarily need to precede the fire. A defendant can be convicted for burning insured property if he or she is capable of extinguishing a fire that has started accidentally, but intentionally fails to do so in order to injure the insurer.

Note however that negligence alone is not enough to convict a defendant.

Also note that arson of a dwelling and burning a building are NOT lesser included offenses of burning a building to defraud an insurer. A lesser included offense is a less serious crime that is necessarily committed during the perpetration of a greater crime because the lesser crime contains some of the same elements as the greater crime.

IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH A CRIME, AND YOU NEED AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER WORKING ON YOUR SIDE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, PLEASE CONTACT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY WILLIAM J. BARABINO.

CALL 781-393-5900 TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR AVAILABLE DEFENSES.

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