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Up in Smoke! (The Cigar Arsonist)

Netlore Archive: North Carolina man takes out fire insurance on pricey stash of rare cigars, smokes same, files claim. Guess who prevailed in court.

Description: Email joke / Urban legend
Circulating since: 1960s
Status: Dubious


Example #1:
Email contributed anonymously in 1997:

FW: Subject: Our wonderful legal system

A Charlotte, North Carolina man, having purchased a case of rare, very expensive cigars, insured them against (get this) fire! Within a month, having smoked his entire stockpile of fabulous cigars, and having yet to make a single premium payment on the policy, the man filed a claim against the insurance company.

In his claim, the man stated that he had lost the cigars "in a series of small fires." The insurance company refused to pay, citing the obvious reason that the man had consumed the cigars in a normal fashion. The man sued -- and won! In delivering his ruling, the judge stated that since the man held a policy from the company in which it had warranted that the cigars were insurable and also guaranteed that the cigars would be insured against fire, without defining what it considered to be unacceptable fire, it was obligated to compensate the insured for his loss.

Rather than endure a lengthy and costly appeal process, the insurance company grudgingly accepted the judge's ruling and paid the man $15,000 for the rare cigars he lost in the fires. After the man cashed his check, however, the insurance company had him arrested on 24 counts of arson. With his own insurance claim and testimony from the previous case being used as evidence against him, the man was convicted of intentionally burning the rare cigars and sentenced to 24 consecutive one-year terms.

So don't piss off your insurance company!


Example #2:
Email contributed by Catherine O., April 3, 2002:

Subject: FW: Talk About Getting BURNED !!

A Charlotte, NC lawyer purchased a box of very rare and expensive cigars then insured them against fire among other things. Within a month, having smoked his entire stockpile of these great cigars, the lawyer filed a law suit against the insurance company. In his claim, the lawyer stated the cigars were lost "in a series of small fires." The insurance company refused to pay, citing the obvious reason: that the man had consumed the cigars in the normal fashion. The lawyer sued.... and won! In delivering the ruling the judge agreed with the insurance company that the claim was frivolous. The Judge stated nevertheless, that the lawyer held a policy from the company in which it had warranted that the cigars were insurable and also guaranteed that it would insure them against fire, without defining what is considered to be "unacceptable fire," and was obligated to pay the claim.

Rather than endure a lengthy and costly appeal process, the insurance company accepted the ruling and paid $15,000.00 to the lawyer for his loss of the rare cigars lost in the "fires."

NOW FOR THE BEST PART:

After the lawyer cashed the check, the insurance company had him arrested on 24 counts of ARSON!!!! With his own insurance claim and testimony from the previous case being used against him, the lawyer was convicted of intentionally burning his insured property and he was sentenced to 24 months in jail and ordered to pay a $24,000 fine. This is a true story and was the 1st place winner in the recent Criminal Lawyers Award Contest.


Analysis: This story is decades old and likely originated as a joke. A much briefer version appeared in a 1965 toastmaster's manual and was apparently the direct inspiration of the earliest Internet variant, posted in a Usenet discussion in February 1996:

A cigar smoker bought several hundred expensive stogies and had them insured against fire. After he'd smoked them all, he filed a claim, pointing out that the cigars had been destroyed by fire. The company refused to pay, and the man sued. A judge ruled that because the insurance company had agreed to insure against fire, it was legally responsible. So the company paid the claim. And when the man accepted the money, the company had him arrested for arson.

We find the tale set in North Carolina for the first time in this Usenet version dated February 1997:

Something heard on the radio:

A North Carolina man, having bought several expensive cigars, insured them against... get this... fire. After he had smoked them, he then decided that he had a claim against the insurance company and filed. The insurance company refused to pay, citing the obvious reason that the man had consumed the cigar normally. The man sued. The judge stated that since the company had insured the cigars against fire, they were obligated to pay. After the man accepted payment for his claim, the company then had him arrested for... arson.

As it traveled the email circuit the story grew longer and more detailed, and by the time 1997 was out the latter-day version set in Charlotte, NC had become standard. David Boraks, a reporter for the Charlotte Observer, tried vainly to authenticate it. "Somewhat sheepishly," he wrote, "I've tried to verify the cigar story. But searches of court records and newspaper files fail to turn up a single case or N.C. news article matching the incident." Not that anyone should be surprised.

A new variant claiming the scheming cigar aficionado was himself a lawyer began circulating in mid-2002 (see above).


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Sources and further reading:

Internet Speeds Spread of Charlotte Cigar Myth
Charlotte Observer, 30 Dec. 1997

Fantastic Tales
Guardian (UK), 15 Oct. 2002

Last updated: 09/13/07


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