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Whiten V. Pilot Insurance Notes

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Whiten V. Pilot Insurance Revision

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WHITEN V. PILOT INSURANCE FACTS The appellant, Daphne Whiten, bought her home in Haliburton County, Ontario, in 1985. Just after midnight on January 18, 1994, when she and her husband Keith were getting ready to go to bed, they discovered a fire in the addition to their house. They and their daughter, who had also been upstairs, fled the house wearing only their night clothes. The appellant was able to rent a small winterized cottage nearby for $650 per month. Pilot made a single $5000 payment for living expenses and covered the rent for a couple of months or so, then cut off the rent without telling the family, and thereafter pursued a hostile and confrontational policy which the jury must have concluded was calculated to force the appellant (whose family was in very poor financial shape) to settle her claim at substantially less than its fair value. The allegation that the family had torched its own home was contradicted by the local fire chief, the respondent's own expert investigator, and its initial expert, all of whom said there was no evidence whatsoever of arson. The jury was clearly outraged by the high-handed tactics employed by the respondent, Pilot Insurance Company, following its unjustified refusal to pay the appellant's claim under a fire insurance policy (ultimately quantified at approximately $345,000). Pilot forced an eight-week trial on an allegation of arson that the jury obviously considered trumped up. It forced her to put at risk her only remaining asset (the insurance claim) plus approximately
$320,000 in legal costs that she did not have. The denial of the claim was designed to force her to make an unfair settlement for less than she was entitled to. The conduct was planned and deliberate and continued for over two years, while the financial situation of the appellant grew increasingly desperate. Evidently concluding that the arson defence from the outset was unsustainable and made in bad faith, the jury added an award of punitive damages of $1 million, in effect providing the appellant with a "windfall" that added something less than treble damages to her actual out-of-pocket loss. HOLDING SUMMARY

OF GENERAL PRINCIPLES

First, the attempt to limit punitive damages by "categories" does not work and was rightly rejected in Canada in Vorvis, supra, at pp. 1104-6. The control mechanism lies not in restricting the category of case but in rationally determining circumstances that warrant the addition of punishment to compensation in a civil action. It is

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