Marcus Johnson and Tom Corrigan review an important Appeal Court decision in a fraudulent fire claim

The insurance industry's fight against fraudulent claims has received a significant boost in the Court of Appeal.

Reversing the first instance decision in Yaqoob v Royal Insurance (now Royal & SunAlliance), a case concerning a fraudulent, fire-related claim, the Court of Appeal found in favour of the insurer, vindicating its decision to appeal.

Royal & SunAlliance (R&SA) had refused to indemnify its policyholder, Yaqoob, after a fire at his restaurant in 1996, on the basis that the fire was not fortuitous. Reports by forensic engineers, appointed by R&SA to investigate, had showed the fire had not been an accident.

Under the policy wording the onus lay with Yaqoob to prove that the fire was not caused by him or with his connivance. The standard of proof required Yaqoob to show that it was more likely than not that he did not cause the fire. The judge found in Yaqoob's favour and awarded him over £77,000.

R&SA appealed on a number of grounds, including that the trial judge had failed to take any account of the forensic evidence which pointed overwhelmingly to Yaqoob as the likely perpetrator.

The Court of Appeal upheld R&SA's appeal. It decided that the judge had failed to give proper weight to the evidence, including both the expert forensic opinion and the conflict in witness evidence.

Although the appeal judges did not go so far as to say that Yaqoob must have caused the fire, they did rule forcefully that he had failed to discharge the burden of proof to show that he did not cause the fire or connive in it.

The Court of Appeal therefore decided that a proper balancing of the evidence tipped the scales substantially in R&SA's favour. IT

' Marcus Johnson is a solicitor and Tom Corrigan a partner at Beachcroft