Steamboat Springs An insurance company has agreed to pay Scott Rouda $371,000 to rebuild a house he lost in an April 2003 fire and $65,000 for his living expenses.
The settlement was signed earlier this month, said Ralph Cantafio, Rouda's attorney. The civil matter had been scheduled to proceed to jury trial on Oct. 4.
On April 10, 2003, Rouda's $875,000 house in Tree Haus was heavily damaged in a fire that the insurance company and Routt County Sheriff's Office found suspicious.
Rouda sued the insurance company, Fire Insurance Exchange, after the company refused to pay his claims. Rouda accused the company of being negligent in its investigation and of wrongly implying Rouda committed arson.
Court documents showed that a fire investigator for the insurance company named arson as the cause of the fire. The determination was made after gasoline residue was found near the origin of the fire.
The insurance company had protested the amount of living expenses Rouda requested. They said the expenses were procured through fraud.
As part of the settlement, each party will dismiss claims against the other, Cantafio said. Rouda had asked for $425,000 to rebuild the house, based on estimates from his construction experts. The insurance company's experts thought it would take about $371,000 to rebuild the home.
Rouda, who travels between Steamboat Springs, Ohio and Florida, hopes to start construction on the house by Nov. 1, Cantafio said. He added that the home likely again would be listed for sale.
"(Rouda) is very happy to be done with this very, very stressful situation," Cantafio said.
The settlement was reached through mediation in Denver.
Prior to the settlement, the insurance company said it not only thought Rouda was a suspect in starting the fire, but it later found through discovery that he had motivation to do so.
The insurance company reported that, leading up to the fire, Rouda's financial resources had been depleted and that he had been unable to sell the house, one of his last remaining assets. Rouda also had expressed a strong desire not to spend another winter in Steamboat Springs. He wished to relocate to Florida to start a business and had plans to do so weeks after the fire, court documents showed.
"As far as I can tell, this was the most scrutinized residential fire in the history of Routt County," Cantafio said.
The case had been reviewed by law enforcement, two professional engineers that specialize in fire investigations and two of the most recognized attorneys in the state for dealing with fire claims, Cantafio said. The case involved 15 depositions that totaled close to 50 hours worth of testimony.
"It was clear by the extent the claim was paid, they would not have paid the money over unless they felt it was justified," Cantafio said.
Last week, the Routt County Sheriff's Office reported it is continuing to investigate the 2003 fire. Cantafio said the information and evidence in that fire had been handed over to the District Attorney's Office, which has declined to move forward with prosecution.
The statute of limitation for arson is three years.
Rouda also was the caretaker of a Tree Haus home that burned down on Dec. 9.
The owners of that home -- Jean and Jeffery Wolf -- were out to dinner with Rouda the night their house caught on fire.
The sheriff's office also continues to investigate the Wolf fire, Investigator Rochelle Redmond said last week.
For that fire, Cantafio said the main investigators from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation were unable to make any determination on the cause of the fire and did not come to a consensus about where it started.
"By the way the evidence was essentially consumed, they were not able to make any determination whatsoever as to the cause of the fire nor the place of origin of the fire," Cantafio said.
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