Fire Victims Take Insurer To Court Over Claim Dispute

December 17, 1991|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

The hand-lettered potshots at Nationwide Insurance have been removedfrom public display, and the fire damage to the house in Severna Park has been repaired. But Dan and Judy Bedsole's dispute with Nationwide goes on.

It has moved from the doorstep to the courthouse, withthe Bedsoles suing the firm for breach of contract. Dan Bedsole has grown more careful about his public statements. He's also glad to be living in his house, not in a trailer in the front yard.

"I'm glad to have heat," said Bedsole, sitting in the waiting area of his home barber shop on Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard. He referred all other questions to his lawyer, Robert Suder of Baltimore.

It was Bedsole who put up the big sign in his front yard over a year ago declaring that Nationwide had failed to act on his claim after a fire on Jan. 24, 1990, forced him, his wife and two daughters out of their three-bedroom home. And Bedsole had put up a smaller sign in thebarbershop: "Please excuse the mess. Nationwide is out to lunch."

For months, the Bedsoles were living in a rented trailer parked in the front yard. Then Judy Bedsole and the children went to live with relatives, leaving Dan Bedsole in the trailer.

The fire, which started in the laundry room next to the barber shop, destroyed the kitchen and caused smoke and water damage to the living room and bedrooms. The Anne Arundel County Fire Department estimated damage at $40,000 to the house, $20,000 to the contents.

Nationwide has since paid $42,000 to repair the house, but only because the bank holding the mortgage made a claim for the balance of the loan. Nationwide refused to pay the Bedsoles' claim, saying that its investigators suspected arson.

The Anne Arundel County Fire Department ruled in May 1990 that the fire had been deliberately set. No charges have been filed in thecase.

Suder said his fire investigator found that the morning blaze started accidentally in a plastic dryer vent hose in the laundry room next to the barber shop.

Last January, the Bedsoles filed an eight-count complaint against Nationwide seeking millions of dollars in damages for, among other charges, breach of contract, negligence, defamation and fraud. After a hearing, Anne Arundel County Circuit Court dismissed all but the breach of contract complaint, which alleges that Nationwide failed to live up to its contract to provide coveragefor fire damage. The complaint demands $250,000 for damages, plus lawyers' fees.

Suder said no trial date has been set.

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