De Novo Review Of Jury Instruction Favors Insurer

This case is another dispute between an insured and his homeowner’s insurer. After his house burned down, Rodney Barth filed a claim with State Farm. State Farm denied the claim because, it argued, Rodney made material misrepresentations during State Farm’s investigation of the fire. A jury found in favor of State Farm, and Rodney appealed.

Rodney argued that the trial court should have instructed the jury that State Farm was required to prove that it reasonably relied to its prejudice on Rodney’s misrepresentation. Instead, the trial court instructed the jury only that Rodney’s misrepresentation had to be “material.”

The Illinois Supreme Court stated the rule for review of jury instruction challenges: “Although jury instructions are generally reviewed for an abuse of discretion, our standard of review is de novo when the question is whether the applicable law was accurately conveyed.”

In this case, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed that the jury only needed to be instructed as to “materiality,” and not on the elements reasonable reliance and prejudice.

Read the whole case, Barth v. State Farm Fire & Casualty, No. 104378 (3/20/08, by ckicking here..