Home wrecker

By James Quiggle
January 1, 2002
Whoops, gotcha! The neighbor’s candid camera was too candid. Licensed public insurance adjuster Steven Budge used a huge log to bash gaping holes in the roof of his uncle’s home to inflate a small insurance claim into a $70,000 whopper. The motive? His uncle needed money to renovate the home, and adjuster Budge would make a cool $10,500 in commissions.

Clever scheme — but a neighbor secretly videotaped the entire bash-fest. The neighbor’s tree had fallen onto the roof of the Vernon Twp., NJ home. Worried he might be sued, he videotaped Budge and two helpers slamming a 600-pound tree chunk into the roof nearly a dozen times — leaving two huge holes and a wrecked skylight. The home’s outraged insurance company, Liberty Mutual, soon saw the tape and sued.

How did Budge explain the flagrant tree slamming to a jury? Well, uh, he was trying to make bigger holes to find an electrical problem. Right. So why not use the chainsaw he brought onto the roof? Um, well, the blades were too dull “and couldn’t cut butter.” The jury didn’t buy Budge’s story.

The jury cancelled the insurance policy and denied the claim. “It doesn’t look good, but it doesn’t depict the truth,” Budge said of the video. “You don’t get any better evidence than that,” Liberty Mutual’s lawyer said.

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