A Supreme Court judge has set aside a default judgment against the insurers of a gold, diamond-encrusted eagle allegedly stolen in Delta two years ago, saying the company must respond to a notice of civil claim from the statue’s owner before the end of the month.
The B.C. Supreme Court issued a default judgment against Lloyd’s Underwriters in December 2018, ordering it to pay the plaintiff, Forgotten Treasures International Inc., and its president, Ron Shore, damages and costs for the loss of the pricey statue.
But Lloyd’s argued it needed Shore to provide more details of allegations of misconduct by the company and one of its insurance adjusters leveled in the suit — including that adjuster Rich Mancuso acted in an “abrasive,” “combative” and “unprofessional” manner while investigating the alleged robbery — before it would respond to the notice.
Shore’s notice also said that Lloyd’s breached their duties by failing to “investigate and fairly assess the plaintiff’s claim in a timely manner,” using “denial of coverage in order to improperly gain bargaining leverage and obtain financial benefits,” as well as failing “to follow accepted industry practices for the handling of claims,” among other allegations.
Judge Robin Baird ruled on April 3 that Shore needn’t provide more details and set aside the previous default judgment, giving Lloyd’s 21 days to respond to Forgotten Treasures’ original notice of civil claim.
Documents filed when Shore launched his suit in 2018 show the eight kilogram, solid gold eagle statue studded with 763 diamonds weighing a total of 56 karats was appraised at $930,450 in May 2016.
That was when police in Delta reported Shore had been attacked and robbed as he carried the statue and a similar silver one to his car following a presentation about an international treasure hunt he was operating.
The jewel-covered statue and the silver version were prizes in the hunt, which was a fundraiser for cancer research, Shore’s statement of claim says.
The treasure hunt involved finding 12 certificates hidden in locations around North America and Europe with the first person to find the clue awarded one of 12 solid silver eagles.
Five of the silver eagles, worth an estimated total of $175,000, had already been awarded at the time Shore was attacked, hit over the head and robbed of the statues that he was carrying in a backpack, his claim says.
The gold eagle was to be sold at the end of the treasure hunt to finance the winner’s $1-million prize, say Forgotten Treasure’s documents, and the insurance policy for the jewelled bird set liability at $400,000, while liability for loss of the silver statue was set at $53,750.
Documents filed in November 2018 by Lloyd’s say the policy limits of liability for the articles were $710,000 and $53,750, respectively.
The insurers formally denied coverage in October 2016, says Shore’s civil claim, after Mancuso found that on the night of the alleged robbery Shore was accompanied by Tanya Merx, a friend and practising psychologist, who was not trained in security.
The policy says that coverage is excluded unless the insured articles are in the close personal custody and control of the assured and an officer or representative of the assured at all times.
Insurance broker The Hub, which is also listed as a defendant in the suit, alleges in its response that the eagle statues were being transported in a manner Shore “knew or ought to have known was in contravention of the policy.”
Baird concluded that a default judgment should not have been sought by Shore and his lawyer, given that Lloyd’s was ready to fight Shore’s claims and had Merx’s statement.
“Communications between the parties had made it perfectly clear that there was an active, ongoing dispute between the parties with a substantial defence forthcoming, and not one that was merely worthy of investigation, but one which had been communicated clearly and precisely with the concomitant disclosure of substantiating evidence in the form of Tanya Merx’s statement,” the ruling reads.
Baird said Lloyd’s still has to address Shore’s notice of civil claim, whose allegations he said “are not frivolous, vexatious, or embarrassing, but merely fall within an admissible realm of aspirational pleadings that may ultimately be difficult or impossible to prove. The plaintiff must nevertheless be accorded the scope to explore such lines of inquiry, and should not be stopped or hampered in doing so by an early tactical demand for particulars.”
— with files from The Canadian Press