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Grieving family finally allowed to rebuild home [Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.]

Feb. 07-- EASTHAM-- After a complicated investigation, an insurance company has honored a claim that will allow a couple to rebuild their home destroyed in a March fire. For nearly a year, Dianne and Dennis O'Neill have struggled with the grief of losing their 33- year-old daughter, Shannon, while living in temporary rentals and, for several months, in a donated trailer...

By K.C. Myers, Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Feb. 07--EASTHAM -- After a complicated investigation, an insurance company has honored a claim that will allow a couple to rebuild their home destroyed in a March fire.

For nearly a year, Dianne and Dennis O'Neill have struggled with the grief of losing their 33-year-old daughter, Shannon, while living in temporary rentals and, for several months, in a donated trailer next to the charred remains of their home at 4 Gimlet Way.

The O'Neills could not rebuild or even obtain money for temporary housing because the insurance claim, held by the Massachusetts Property Insurance Underwriting Association, commonly known as the FAIR Plan, was tied up in an investigation of the fire. The state fire marshal determined that Shannon set the fire.

The insurance company had to interpret the state police arson investigation and other factors before finally issuing the decision about two weeks ago.

Unlike other states, Massachusetts does not have an "innocent co-insured law" that may have made the settlement simpler, said Jennifer Mieth, spokeswoman for the state fire marshal's office.

The innocent co-insured law protects a homeowner when another member of the family -- such as a spouse or adult child -- commits arson, Mieth said.

Such a law exists in Rhode Island, but attempts to get it through the Massachusetts Legislature have not been successful, she said.

In the O'Neill case, the state fire marshal's office declared the fire an arson soon after March 18, but then issued a carefully worded statement that "the public was not in danger," sidestepping directly saying that Shannon set the blaze.

The O'Neills continue to believe their daughter would never commit suicide or burn down the large, four-bedroom, custom-built family home, Dianne O'Neill said.

But the state fire marshal found Shannon responsible, said Jeni Landers of Wynn & Wynn, the O'Neills' attorney.

In terms of the insurance payout, the key question came down to Shannon's intent.

The insurance company looked at the fire marshal's investigation and Shannon's medical records, Landers said, and it ultimately ruled that although she intentionally set a fire, it was not with the goal of causing property damage or defrauding the insurance company.

"The (FAIR Plan) was a little slow," Landers said. "And it took some prompting, but they did pay out."

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"We've just been focused on paying our bills," Dianne O'Neill, a computer technician and real estate agent, said this week. "Now we need to choose an architect."

They had been using all their income to rent homes for a few months or weeks at a time. During the summer, they stayed in a donated trailer on their lot until Nov. 1, she said.

"We're moving forward, but it's taken a toll," she added.

The O'Neills will receive the building replacement cost of more than $320,000, as well as reimbursement for personal property and all expenses incurred for alternative living arrangements, said Tim Ball of Ball & Boyd Public Adjusters Inc.

"I can tell you that everyone involved has been sympathetic to the plight of this family," Ball said.

"It's not a happy ending," Landers said, "but a small bit of solace in a tragic story."

___

(c)2013 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)

Visit the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.) at www.capecodonline.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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