Close, but no Cigar...

It's quite common for emails originally sent to a few people to proliferate globally at an alarming rate. The following story seems to circulate on a regular basis.


A Charlotte, NC lawyer purchased a box of very rare and expensive cigars, then insured them against fire among other things. Within a month having smoked his entire stockpile of these great cigars and without yet having made even his first premium payment on the policy, the lawyer filed claim against the insurance company.

In his claim, the lawyer stated the cigars were lost "in a series of small fires." The insurance company refused to pay, citing the obvious reason that the man had consumed the cigars in the normal fashion. The lawyer sued... and WON!

In delivering the ruling the judge agreed with the insurance company that the claim was frivolous. The judge stated nevertheless, that the lawyer "held a policy from the company in which it had warranted that the cigars were insurable and also guaranteed that it would insure them against fire, without defining what is considered to be unacceptable fire" and was obligated to pay the claim. Rather than endure lengthy and costly appeal process, the insurance company accepted the ruling and paid $15,000 to the lawyer for his loss of the rare cigars lost in the "fires."


After the lawyer cashed the check, the insurance company had him arrested on 24 counts of ARSON!!! With his own insurance claim and testimony from the previous case being used against him, the lawyer was convicted of intentionally burning his insured property and was sentenced to 24 months in jail and a $24,000 fine.

This is a true story and was the First place winner in the recent Criminal Lawyers Award Contest.

Undoubtedly an entertaining tale - Just one problem. It's not true...

This tall tale began its Internet life when it was posted on a newsgroup in early 1996, and it has continued to circulate as a "true story" in newsgroups and e-mail ever since, despite its having been identified as an "urban legend" when it was first posted.

The version above is, in fact, nearly identical to one that has been circulating since at least the mid-1960s. Another anecdote from 1965 suggests this legend stems from a joke whose basic premise has been used in a few different ways: "He's the kind of accountant you've got to admire. Last year he deducted eighty cartons of cigarettes from my income tax. Called it loss by fire!"

Insurance policies are generally written so that deliberate actions on the part of the policyholders cannot trigger payouts. Furthermore, destroying your own property isn't arson, as long as the act isn't intended to defraud anyone. If a court had already ruled that the insurance company was required to pay, then obviously no fraud was committed, and thus the burning could not be considered arson.

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