Today in Indianapolis, they are picking a jury in the criminal trial of Bob Leonard, who is accused of arson and murder in the huge home explosion that took place back in 2012, leveling several homes and damaging many others in the Richmond Hill neighborhood.
For more on what happened, read our earlier post, “Indiana Blast, Indianapolis Home Explosion Investigation Continues: Need to Be Aware of Dangers and Risks of Home Gas Furnace.” Back then, no one suspected that there was an intent to blow up that house – as we posted in November 2012, first responders were thinking it was a tragic accident, like a gas explosion from a gas leak. No more.
Now we know that this huge fire which caused the deaths of two people and destroyed homes and altered the lives of so many families was intentionally set. Why? Prosecutors report their evidence shows the goal was to get paid on the $300,000 home insurance policy.
Several people were involved in this arson scheme; one of them is already in prison, serving a sentence for conspiracy after taking a plea deal. Another was convicted in a jury trial this summer and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
So what happens now? What about the insurance?
Home Insurance Policies and Arson Gas Explosion Damages
Insurance policies will not pay for intentional acts. Insurance covers negligence. The insurance coverage for the house targeted for arson definitely will not cover criminal acts. Therefore, that $300,000 insurance payment isn’t coming to the defendants now that the criminal investigation has confirmed the explosion was caused by arson.
However, what about the Richmond Hill neighbors, who were killed in the Indianapolis blast? What about the 80 homes (that’s right: EIGHTY) that suffered damage from the gas explosion?
These folk had no intent to be harmed. They weren’t involved in the criminal conspiracy.
What can they do here? These homeowners can file claims on their home-owner’s insurance policies. For a detailed story on one family’s saga in this tragedy, read “Richmond Hill family refuses to let blast drive them away.”
Criminal Acts and Civil Claims
Sadly, experienced personal injury lawyers all too often see instances like this one, where criminal acts dovetail with civil personal injury claims. When crimes cause harm to people, the criminal may be arrested and prosecuted for his actions, but the criminal justice system isn’t built to provide financial justice to his victims.
This is where personal injury law comes into play. Under areas of the law like “negligent security” there are legal avenues available to crime victims where they may be able to file claims for damages and get help for dealing with the aftermath of a crime.
1. Examples of Negligent Security
When someone is injured or killed during the commission of a crime, then state premises liability law may hold the property owner or business operator liable for their damages if they failed in their legal duty to keep that crime victim safe.
Both Indiana and Illinois law place a duty upon business owners to take reasonable measures to make sure their customers are safe when they are on business premises. These include, for example:
1. Banks may be liable for personal injury damages to someone who is shot during an armed robbery of their bank;
2. The owner of a convenience store may face liability for someone who is wounded during an armed robbery of their corner store;
3. Restaurants can be held accountable for customers who are hurt during a mugging in their parking lot; and
4. Colleges and universities may face legal claims for injuries resulting from a campus sexual assault on one of their students.
If someone has been a victim of crime on commercial property, then they may be able to seek redress against the owner or operator of that property.
2. Employers Violating Safety Laws
Employers and business owners are also legally responsible for the safety of their workers and employees. Not only may they be held legally liable for the criminal acts of third parties on their property that harms their workers, they can also be held liable for violating laws in such a way that their own acts constitute criminal behavior.
Criminal penalties are included in the Occupational Safety and Health Act (”OSHA”). When an employer’s actions are so harsh that they put a worker in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm, then it’s held to be a crime under federal law. Those held accountable can face felony charges and monetary fines along with imprisonment in a federal facility.
It’s shocking but true that even after these laws are in place, there are still companies operating today that value their profits over people, and risk the lives and well-being of their employees by disrespecting and ignoring federal safety and health laws because doing so will hurt their bottom line.
Here, their victims can have civil cases to assert against their employer – company for the wrongful deaths or severe personal injuries that have resulted from their brazen criminal acts.
Personal Injury Lawyers and Crime Injuries
When someone has been hurt because a crime has been committed and laws have been violated, then they may face a complicated fight to get their injury claims paid by those who are legally responsible for failing to keep them safe. Experienced personal injury attorneys can help here by doing things like:
- Investigating what the security measures were supposed to be at the time of the crime;
- Determining if those measures were being followed;
- Finding out the qualifications and experience of the security guards, etc., who were in charge of safety at the scene of the crime;
- Locating and interviewing witnesses to the crime;
- Locating and interviewing victims of similar crimes in that location or at that commercial enterprise; and
- Obtaining experts to confirm the failure of those responsible for the victim’s safety to do their duty to protect them and prevent the crime from happening.
If you or a loved one have been the victim of a serious crime, then it’s wise for you to investigate if there are private damage claims you can file to help with things like medical expenses and lost wages. You cannot expect the prosecutor to help you with these things — their job is to fight crime and bring criminals to justice with punishment behind bars. It is a different kind of lawyer that helps with the civil remedies. Be careful out there!