Deadlines set in Indian Hill mansion fire federal case - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

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Deadlines set in Indian Hill mansion fire federal case

(PHOTO: FOX19 NOW File) (PHOTO: FOX19 NOW File)
INDIAN HILL, OH (FOX19) -

The owners of a $4 million dollar Indian Hill mansion, who filed a $60 million lawsuit against their insurance carrier, have officially denied allegations the pair lied to investigators following a 2014 fire. Jeffrey and Maria Decker filed their denials in federal court last week.

Now, both sides have strict deadlines as the case moves into the discovery phase. Here are the next steps for the case, as outlined in an April 17 filing:

  • Dec. 15, 2015: fact discovery closes

  • Jan. 1, 2016: list of experts the Deckers' plan to use to show the court why their insurer should pay the couple $60 million in damages

  • Feb. 15, 2016: list of experts the Deckers' insurance company plans to use to prove allegations the pair lied to investigators and violated a fraud provision of the insurance policy on the $4 million Indian Hill mansion

  • May 1, 2016: end of the discovery phase

Attorneys for Chubb National Insurance Company wrote in an April 3 federal court filing that Jeffrey and Maria Decker “concealed and misrepresented material facts relating to the policy.

The Deckers owned a 22-room mansion in the Indian Hill neighborhood. On Jan. 10, 2014 the mansion burned. Within days, state and federal fire investigators were on the property working to figure out how the fire started.

On April 10, 2014, the Ohio Fire Marshal's Office announced the cause of the fire was “undetermined,” but investigators kept the investigation into the cause open. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms assisted the state in trying to figure out what caused the fire.

Last month, all investigating agencies involved in the case met and each agreed there was no new information to determine the cause of the fire, according to state fire marshal's office.

In January, the Deckers sued Chubb National for failing to pay out the insurance claim. The company paid the Deckers around $700,000 in claims right after the fire in 2014. In the Decker lawsuit, they're asking a judge to award them $60 million in damages for the insurer's delays in settling the insurance claim.

“INTENTIONALLY CONCEALED OR MISREPRESENTED MATERIAL FACTS”

In an answer to the Decker complaint, Chubb National submitted a list of reasons why the insurer had no plans to pay the claim. Among the reasons included information the insurer claims shows the Deckers tried to create a “false alibi” and to hide a “potential motive to intentionally destroy the house.”

The answer was filed in federal court April 3.

The insurer hired an investigator to piece together the Deckers' whereabouts the day of the fire, as well as, five years of spending records. The investigator found, according to the filing, Jeffery Decker's cell phone tells a different story about where he was minutes before the fire.

The filing shows that on March 13, 2014, the Deckers gave a sworn, recorded statement to the insurance investigator. Decker told the investigator he had his cell phone with him “throughout the day” on Jan. 10.

Investigators pulled Decker's cell records and found Jeff Decker wasn't at a Blue Ash construction site as he initially told investigators he was when the fire broke out, according to the filing. The filing shows Decker initially told investigators he left home around 1:30 p.m. the day of the fire.

Cell records show Decker was “at and around the residence” from 2:09 p.m. until 2:58 p.m., according to the insurer's filing. The first 911 call went out 16 minutes after the insurance investigator said Decker's cell phone shows he was at his home.

CONCEALMENT OR FRAUD

“We do not provide coverage if you or any covered person has intentionally concealed or misrepresented any material fact relating to this policy before or after a loss.” That's the language from the Deckers' insurance policy their insurer is relying upon to deny the claim.

Chubb National opened its investigation into the fire within days of the Deckers filing the claim. After interviewing the Deckers at least twice, the insurer concluded the pair were not being truthful, the April 3 filing shows.

The insurer accused Jeffrey Decker of “concealments and misrepresentations” on five separate points: the contradictory evidence produced by his cell phone records, the “true facts concerning the costs incurred” to build the house, the “true facts” of the Decker's finances before the fire, the truth about the “type and amount of currency in the safe(s)” inside the home and the statements the Deckers submitted in their “Sworn Statement of Proof of Loss to Chubb National.”

The insurer made similar allegations against Maria Decker, including an allegation that the couple told “another family member and realtors” of their desire to sell the mansion before the fire.

Chubb National accused the Deckers in the filing of trying to “deflect the focus” of the insurer's investigation into the cause of the fire away from the pair. The filing also accused the Deckers of preventing fire investigators from interviewing Jeffrey Decker about his whereabouts on Jan. 10, 2014, “in particular his actions and observations of conditions in or around the house during the period from approximately 2:09 p.m. to approximately 2:58 p.m. when he was in and around the house shortly before the fire was discovered by witnesses at nearby properties,” the filing stated.

The insurer went on to accused the Deckers of creating a “false alibi for Jeffrey Decker” before the fire and “to conceal Plaintiffs' (the Deckers') potential motive to intentionally destroy” their Indian Hill home “to collect the fire insurance proceeds.”

The insurer wrote in the filing that the allegations laid out in the April 3 court record might not include all the evidence the insurance company has in the case.

REACHING THE DECKERS

FOX19 tried multiple times to reach Jeffrey and Maria Decker for comment on the allegations. Maria Decker did not respond to a Facebook message and no other phone number or current address could be found for her in the public record.

We emailed Jeffrey Decker on his personal Gmail account seeking comment. As of this report, Mr. Decker has not responded.

The Deckers are represented by the Cincinnati law firm of Gary F. Franke. Calls to Mr. Franke's office were not returned. Franke wrote in previous filings that the Deckers cooperated with the insurance company's investigation, turning over hundreds of records to investigators and submitting to sworn interviews.

NEXT STEP IN THE INVESTIGATION

In May 2014, state investigators returned the Indian Hill property back to the Deckers after the evidence collection was finished. In April 2014, the state said it could not figure out what caused the fire.

The investigation remains open into the cause, allowing investigators to continue working on the case and developing new leads on how the fire started.

As of this report, the Deckers' federal lawsuit against Chubb National insurance continues to move through the federal court system.

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