No smoke without fire!

The Myth :
Email contributed anonymously in 1997:

FW: Subject: Our wonderful legal system

A Charlotte, North Carolina man, having purchased a case of rare, very expensive cigars, insured them against (get this) fire! Within a month, having smoked his entire stockpile of fabulous cigars, and having yet to make a single premium payment on the policy, the man filed a claim against the insurance company.

In his claim, the man stated that he had lost the cigars “in a series of small fires.” The insurance company refused to pay, citing the obvious reason that the man had consumed the cigars in a normal fashion. The man sued — and won! In delivering his ruling, the judge stated that since the man held a policy from the company in which it had warranted that the cigars were insurable and also guaranteed that the cigars would be insured against fire, without defining what it considered to be unacceptable fire, it was obligated to compensate the insured for his loss.

Rather than endure a lengthy and costly appeal process, the insurance company grudgingly accepted the judge’s ruling and paid the man $15,000 for the rare cigars he lost in the fires. After the man cashed his check, however, the insurance company had him arrested on 24 counts of arson. With his own insurance claim and testimony from the previous case being used as evidence against him, the man was convicted of intentionally burning the rare cigars and sentenced to 24 consecutive one-year terms.

So don’t piss off your insurance company!

Verdict:  This so called myth is as old as time itself and in all likelihood started off as a joke.  A shorter version of it appeared as early as 1965 and apparently the source of inspiration for the story above, which is as follows :

A cigar smoker bought several hundred expensive stooges and had them insured against fire. After he’d smoked them all, he filed a claim, pointing out that the cigars had been destroyed by fire. The company refused to pay, and the man sued. A judge ruled that because the insurance company had agreed to insure against fire, it was legally responsible. So the company paid the claim. And when the man accepted the money, the company had him arrested for arson.

Clearly we see a Chinese whispers game effect here. A dude called David Boraks who was a reporter for Charlotte Observer even tried to validate the claim – “Somewhat sheepishly,” he wrote, “I’ve tried to verify the cigar story. But searches of court records and newspaper files fail to turn up a single case or N.C. news article matching the incident.”

There are 2 things, according to me, that really stand out, as pure intelligence in this whole case, the first would be the quirky mind that created this joke, and the second would be Mr. David’s attempt at its substantiation.

It does seem appropriate to end this one with a facepalm, and a little muffled laughter.



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