Edward Draher doused his dining room with gasoline and lit a fire. He then sat down, slipped a sock over his pistol and shot himself in the head.
It was, police found, his final tormented act.
For his wife, this was only the beginning.
On that September morning in 2012, Cindy Draher lost her husband, her two dogs and 40 years of memories when the couple’s expansive dream house sitting on 30 acres in Copley Township went up in flames.
Gone as well, according to her insurance company, was any chance for the widow to make a claim and recoup her loses.
Cindy Draher, like a number of other spouses across the country, has come to learn of a little-known facet of home insurance policies that could bar her from receiving any money for the damage caused by her husband’s arson-suicide.
Compounding her woes while she appeals her insurance company’s decision, Draher’s mortgage company has filed a foreclosure action, despite receiving about $200,000 from the same insurance company that has denied Draher’s claim.
For now, she’s stuck in court fighting banks and her insurance company, unable to sell the large plot of land where the charred remains of her house still stand.
“I was shocked when I heard it. I mean, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t do anything,” Cindy Draher, 63, said this week as she walked through her charred house. “I try not to dwell on this because it’s so depressing.
“But I would like the insurance company to at least offer me something. I mean, I didn’t do this. I paid my insurance. I’m not the one who set the arson. But I’ve lost everything.”
No one is claiming Cindy Draher is anything but a victim of her husband’s criminal acts.
An extensive police and fire investigation showed Edward Draher, 66, acted alone when he set the fire inside the couple’s Earhart Drive house before shooting himself.
In fact, police detectives last year said it appears Edward Draher might have even tried to make his death look like a murder and set up his wife as a suspect.
Why else, detectives wondered, would he have put that sock over his revolver before shooting himself?
To the Ohio Fair Plan investigators, none of it really mattered, records show. Despite the fact that Cindy Draher was a victim of her husband’s arson, the couple’s insurance policy precludes any coverage for intentional acts committed by anyone covered under a policy.
Draher and her attorney, Thomas Skidmore of Akron, are appealing the decision. She is seeking about $350,000 for the house and its contents, which were burned or smoke damaged.
T.A. Brininger, vice president of claims for Ohio Fair Plan, said he could not speak in detail about the case because it is still being litigated.
“Our claim handling speaks for itself,” he said.
Brininger added that the group “did what we should” in handling Draher’s claim.
“She’s being treated as any policyholder would,” he said.
Ohio Fair Plan is a quasi-governmental creation consisting of insurance companies licensed throughout the state. The companies share in the liabilities and profits providing coverage to high-risk properties.
The creation of such collaborations dates back to the 1960s, when riots struck cities across the country. Insurance companies were leery of providing coverage in urban areas, and the government stepped in.
But Ohio Fair Plan’s policy provisions on intentional acts are not unique to the group.
In essence, the provision is designed to protect insurance companies from paying damages to a policyholder for an intentional act, such as arson. Recent policies in Ohio have been written to bar “any insured” from collecting, even so-called “innocent spouses.”
Similar laws and cases are plentiful, with mixed outcomes.
In a Wisconsin case, a wife in an identical situation to Cindy Draher, was found to be entitled to coverage. In its finding, the Wisconsin Supreme Court found “there was no possibility in this situation that the wrongdoer would profit from his criminal act as he was deceased.”
In Iowa, however, a husband committed suicide by setting his house on fire. His wife’s insurance claim was denied and, despite her appeals, the state Supreme Court sided with the carrier and denied damages.
In a Tennessee case, a woman whose terminally ill husband burned down their house in an attempted suicide was barred from collecting damages from her insurance company.
In some instances, the exception has been extended to prevent coverage for losses stemming from the acts of children living in the home.
In California, where a son intentionally set his family’s house on fire, a couple spent years appealing before eventually winning a state Supreme Court ruling forcing their insurance to cover the loss.
Cindy Draher said her husband had grown increasingly troubled in the months leading up to his suicide. His brother had died about a year earlier. Edward Draher himself was in poor health and had lived on disability payments because of a back injury years earlier.
Looking to downsize
As the couple aged, their health deteriorated and the housing market negatively impacted their rental business. Cindy Draher said she was insisting that the couple sell their 4,000-square-foot house that they had built in 1996.
It was a notion that irked Edward, she said.
“He was so stubborn. I had to make it clear,” she said. “It wasn’t even the money. It was just too big for us. We weren’t entertaining anybody. Everybody was downsizing.”
Thomas Skidmore, Cindy Draher’s attorney, said their case is now pending an appeal before the Ohio Department of Insurance. Draher has already lost a direct appeal to the Ohio Fair Plan’s board of governors.
Mental illness clause
Skidmore has argued that Cindy Draher is entitled to coverage because an exception in her policy allows for damages if an insured party committed the act because of a mental illness.
“Of course, you don’t want people burning down their houses and then benefitting from their insurance money. But in this particular case, Cindy is not the one who set the fire. It was not for financial gain. It was because Edward was crazy,” he said.
“Here, we have an innocent spouse who was not involved in any way. He’s gone. He cannot benefit.”
Ohio Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Copley, said he is familiar with Draher’s case from previous news accounts about the fire and the suicide investigation.
He said the decision by the Ohio Fair Plan is troubling, and he intends to investigate the way insurance policies are written in the state to see if Ohio should join 11 other states that provide some protection to “innocent spouses.”
“It’s troubling for her to lose her husband and her house and it’s doubly troubling what’s happening now,” LaRose said.