Anyone who has ever experienced one knows a fire can be very scary. Arson charges can burn…and in more ways than one. Arson falls under the “insurance fraud” umbrella, and can be a serious criminal offense that involves deliberately causing damage to a structure or other property by setting a fire or causing an explosion.
Because fires cause so much damage and can result in serious injuries and death, Florida prosecutors take these cases very seriously.
Arson Law in Florida
In Florida, arson is punishable as a criminal offense if it is done willfully and unlawfully. This means the act itself must be done on purpose. An individual will not be charged with arson if he or she can show the fire or explosion was accidental.
If an individual sets a fire or causes an explosion on purpose, then he or she can be charged with a first or second degree felony depending on the particular facts of the case.
Generally, a criminal defendant accused of arson will face much more severe penalties if the evidence shows the structure or dwelling was occupied at the time of the fire or explosion.
The penalties for first and second degree felony charges are severe and include prison time, fines, and restitution paid to victims of the arson. Additionally, a person who commits arson may also be subject to a civil lawsuit brought by people who sustained personal injuries and other damages as a result of the fire or explosion.
Arson as Insurance Fraud
In some cases, individuals set intentional fires as a way of obtaining insurance money. In these cases, a person may be charged with insurance fraud, criminal mischief, or other crime involving a scheme to commit fraud.
These individuals may also end up facing civil lawsuits filed by the insurance company to recover funds obtained through fraud.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, intentional fires happen more often than you might realize. Between 2007 and 2011, there were over 280,000 intentional fires reported to fire departments in the United States.
These fires resulted in 420 deaths, 1,360 injuries, and $1.3 billion in property damage. An astounding two-thirds of the intentional fires reported involved structures occupied by people at the time of the fire. In the majority of cases, the items used to set the fire were trash and other waste.
Being charged with arson can damage your reputation and leave you reeling. Sadly, insurance companies are often quick to accuse a homeowner of deliberately setting a fire to gain insurance funds. This is a slap in the face to someone who has lost a home and irreplaceable possessions and memories to a fire.
They are struggling to rebuild their life; the last thing they need is an accusation of arson that prevents them from getting the insurance money they need to recover.
A recent case in New York demonstrates how a false arson charge can change a person's life forever. In December 2015, three men were exonerated of deliberately setting an apartment fire in Brooklyn that killed a mother and five children in 1980.
The men's conviction was overturned after the sole witness to the fire – a drug dealer – was discredited. Unfortunately, the exoneration came too late for one of the men, who died in prison in 1989. The other two men served 33 years in prison before their convictions were vacated.
Consult with a Florida Criminal Attorney
If you have been accused of any type of white collar crime, including insurance fraud, then you likely feel a combination of fear, anger, and intense frustration. You are not alone. There is help available.
If you are facing insurance fraud charges, your first step should be to contact a Florida criminal attorney. Your lawyer can help you assemble the evidence you need to fight back against these charges.