Insurer seeks to avoid claims in blaze
For those who are tempted to play the no permit game, realize that insurance companies can refuse to honor a claim that results from misrepresentation..or a number of other reasons. ALWAYS read the fine print..consult an attorney if you have to...but don't make the mistake of assuming it will be OK. This was a horrendous tragedy..now made even more so, by a cocky contractor assuming he was above the law.
STAMFORD -- An insurance company covering the contractor overseeing renovations at the Shippan Avenue house consumed by a fatal fire on Christmas wants a judge to release it from defending lawsuits and paying claims related to the inferno.
The Utica First Insurance Co. claims it would not have issued insurance coverage to contractor Michael Borcina and his company, Tiberias Construction, had he not made several alleged misrepresentations about the type of work he did and the size of his business, according to the lawsuit. Utica First Insurance filed the lawsuit earlier this month in New York Supreme Court. This week, insurance company lawyers included Madonna and Matthew Badger and the estates of the five fire victims as defendants.
Attorneys for the insurance company want a judge to declare that Utica First Insurance is not obligated to provide coverage for Borcina or pay claims from the victims' relatives arising from the fire.
At the time of the fire, Borcina was overseeing renovations at Madonna Badger's 116-year-old house on Shippan Avenue. He was staying over at the house Christmas Eve when a fire ripped through the three-story home, killing Badger's three daughters and her parents early Christmas morning. Borcina and Madonna Badger escaped the fire, which was so intense that the heat drove Stamford firefighters from the house during several rescue attempts.
Police and fire officials described the blaze as accidental and said no criminal charges were anticipated. An initial investigation revealed Borcina cleaned out the fireplace shortly after 3 a.m., placed the embers in a bag and left them inside a newly constructed mudroom or just outside in an enclosed trash bin.
"We are very disappointed that the insurance company has gone to court to try and get out of its legal obligations under its policies," said David Grudberg, an attorney with Carmody & Torrance in New Haven, representing Borcina. "We have just recently received the lawsuit and will respond appropriately in court."
Matthew Badger's attorney, Richard Emery, told The Associated Press on Thursday that he has to examine the insurance company's claim.
"But at first blush, it certainly seems that the insurance company is trying to wiggle out of their responsibility to compensate Borcina's victims," Emery said.
Emery added that he was considering filed a lawsuit against Borcina "and a lot of other people that we believe are responsible for what occurred."
According to the insurance company's lawsuit, Borcina applied for commercial liability insurance as an artisan contractor in 2007 and completed several surveys about the nature of his work and business. The type of insurance Borcina received was meant for small businesses and placed restrictions on the size of projects and earnings, according to Utica First Insurance's website.
The insurance company accused Borcina of falsely reporting his payroll numbers, his gross annual receipts and whether it worked on projects exceeding $500,000.
The lawsuit comes as Stamford State's Attorney David Cohen, the head prosecutor at state Superior Court in Stamford, weighs whether to file criminal charges related to the fire. Cohen did not immediately return phone calls for comment Thursday. Cohen has been reviewing an investigation into the fatal fire since late January.
Stamford Police Capt. Richard Conklin said investigators met with prosecutors last week, and Cohen told them he was still weeks away from releasing his findings.
Alan Scott Pickel, a private attorney in Stamford who handles insurance claims for fire and accident victims, said the lawsuit, if successful, would leave Borcina and his company exposed to handle claims and lawsuits without insurance coverage.
"If somebody brings a claim against him he's going to be out on his own," Pickel said.
In February, Matthew Badger, the estranged husband of Madonna Badger, became the administrator for the estates of his deceased daughters -- 9-year-old Lily and 7-year-old twins Sarah and Grace -- a prerequisite of filing a potential wrongful death lawsuit over the fatal fire.
Wade E. Johnson, the younger brother of Madonna Badger, became the administrator for the estate of his parents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit is one of several pending against Borcina. The contractor owes nearly $100,000 in legal judgments from two projects in Manhattan and upstate Connecticut. According to a source familiar with the lawsuits, one of the former clients tried serving Borcina with legal documents during his hospital stay following the Shippan Avenue fire, in which he suffered burns and smoke inhalation.
Borcina also faces lawsuits from two more recent clients in Manhattan and Long Island. The complaints, filed over projects from the past two years, seek nearly $75,000.
-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.