(Legal Newsline) – The Montana Supreme Court has overturned a First Judicial District Court's decision regarding insurance coverage,
ruling that Robert Fitte's Mountain West automobile insurance policy did
not provide coverage for the losses he suffered to work vehicles from a
fire that Fitte started to burn trees.
According to the court's Feb. 21 decision, Fitte runs a construction business out of his home in Lewis
and Clark counties. Fitte cut down two trees on his property that had been
killed by beetles out of a concern that the trees might fall on his
He burned the branches from the trees, though a fire started
from the ashes and started a wildfire. Fitte carried two insurance
policies issued by Mountain West.
The Montana Supreme Court held that the district court wrongly
ruled that Fitte burning the remains of the trees he cut down was part
of him maintaining those vehicles, because he decided to get rid of those
remains by burning them after he had cut the trees down.
of that, the Montana Supreme Court reasoned that burning the trees was
not needed in maintaining the work vehicles. The Montana Supreme Court
also held that burning the trees was not needed in maintaining the
vehicles because Fitte could have chosen to get rid of the remains of
the trees in another way.
According to the Montana Supreme Court
decision, Stephen Behlmer, whom Fitte assigned the benefits of his
insurance policy to, reasoned that the policy should cover the damages
because Fitte's maintenance to his vehicles caused the fire.
Supreme Court also outlined in its decision that Behlmer said that the
district court was right when it determined that Fitte was doing
maintenance to the vehicles. The Montana Supreme Court also outlined
that Behlmer quoted the district court when he reasoned that because
Fitte had cut the trees down he also had to get rid of them, and that
because of that, the fire and Fitte's maintenance of the vehicles were
West had reasoned that Fitte burning the tree remains was not part of
maintaining his vehicles.
decision to dispose of the branches by burning them and his action of starting the fire
occurred after the trees had been cut down," the court wrote.
"As Fitte admitted in his deposition, the
perceived risk to his vehicles was eliminated when he felled the trees."