Godwin v. Farmers Ins. Co. of America
In Godwin v. Farmers Ins. Co. of America, 129 Ariz. 416, 418, 631 P.2d 571, 573 (App. 1981), an insured filed a breach of contract action against his fire insurer for denying a claim. Id.
At trial, the insurer asserted the affirmative defense of arson to void its obligations under the policy. Id. The trial court refused the insured's request to instruct the jury that the insurer bore the burden of proving the arson defense by clear and convincing evidence. Id.
The jury found in favor of the insurer, and the insured appealed, arguing in part that the court had erred by refusing to instruct the jury as requested by the insured. Id.
On appeal, the insured argued that arson committed to collect insurance is a "specie of fraud" and, as such, must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. Id. at 419, 631 P.2d at 574.
The Court initially recognized that although the burden of proof in civil cases is generally satisfied by a preponderance of evidence, fraud must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. Id. at 418-19, 631 P.2d at 573-74.
However, the court rejected the insured's argument, electing to follow the majority of other jurisdictions, that had held that the arson defense must be shown by a preponderance of evidence. Id. at 419, 631 P.2d at 574.
The court discarded the minority view that arson must be proved by clear and convincing evidence because that view was grounded, in part, on an assumption that proving a criminal act requires more than a preponderance of evidence. Id.
Because the Arizona Supreme Court had impliedly rejected this notion, see Brown v. Jerrild, 29 Ariz. 121, 239 P. 795 (1925), the Godwin court was not persuaded to deviate from the majority position. 129 Ariz. at 419, 631 P.2d at 574.
Thus, the court held that unless fraud is specifically alleged, the burden of proving the arson defense is satisfied by a preponderance of evidence. Id.