Printer, Insurer Tangle in Court Over Fire

GREENVILLE, SC—The gloves have definitely come off in what can be described as a legal bare-knuckle battle to settle whether a family member or someone else intentionally set fire to a debt-laden printing company in order to collect insurance money, and to see if the insurance company is on the hook for the $12 million worth of damage caused by the fire.

The civil trial, taking place in this small South Carolina town perhaps best known as the home of baseball legend Shoeless Joe Jackson, has taken place this week with both sides accusing the other of impropriety. According to the Greenville News, the four owners of Genesis Press—Chris Petrone, Michael Kudeviz, Larry Kudeviz and Bruce Kudeviz—have sued Hartford Casualty Insurance for not paying claims on a reported $12 million in losses following a March 2008 fire that destroyed several presses. Hartford has launched a countersuit for $2 million, claiming fraud due to arson.

Hartford Casualty, on the basis of findings made by its arson investigator, claims the owners conspired to have a family member set 11 fires in the company in order to file insurance claims that would enable the printer to remain fiscally viable, the paper reported. Counsel for the printer says the insurance company is trying to shirk its obligation. Dave Holland, the arson investigator employed Hartford, was questioned as to why he cited, during a performance self-appraisal, the denial of the Genesis fire claim as a basis for a raise request.

“Can you be unbiased if you have money at stake?” Holland was asked by Genesis lawyer Dick Harpootlian, the paper reported. Harpootlian added that the investigator made it his objective to support a denial of the claim rather than discover the truth.

Harpootlian suggested that a disgruntled former employee who had been fired set the blazes. Hartford’s attorney countered that the Genesis owners, millions of dollars in debt that was personally guaranteed, were on the verge of bankruptcy. The company had relocated from Miami to Greenville in 2007.