Insurers Demand $2 Million for Negligent Squirrel-Torching

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Khek Chanthalavong told investigators the blaze started after he had been using a torch on the deck of a unit he shared with Barbara Pellow to burn the fur off a squirrel he’d captured.

People, how many times do I have to say, “Never leave a hot squirrel torch near something flammable when you go inside to wash the carcass”? 

I mean, I really didn’t expect to have to say that once.

This happened in 2012 in Michigan, but is back in the news because now it’s time for the lawsuits. There are lawsuits because, sadly, the squirrel-torcher was unable to douse the fire that started after he put the torch behind a plant holder, and the fire spread to 32 other units. No one was injured (except for the squirrel, and one firefighter who broke a toe), but insurers paid out over $2 million in damages.

They would like to have that back.

Khek is probably in the doghouse permanently for this one. First, his (ex?)girlfriend said she “would not approve of him burning the hair off a squirrel on the deck” to begin with. Understandable, especially since this may not have been the first time. I infer this from the statement that Khek “said he placed [the blowtorch] behind the plastic plant holder on the deck that day to make it less obvious to his girlfriend.” That might have been just to avoid the awkward question, “Um, what exactly have you been doing out here with a blowtorch?” but I’m guessing she knew what the blowtorch was for and had told him to cut it out. But as soon as she dozed off … squirrel time!

Second, he doesn’t appear to have any assets, which I infer from the fact that Travelers Insurance, which paid the vast majority of the damages, is only suing her. Both of them signed the lease, and so Travelers is taking the position that she is equally responsible for the damages, even though as far as we know she has never singed a rodent in her life. 

Surprisingly, a search revealed that this is the first squirrel-related litigation post I’ve written since 2006, when an Illinois woman sued a mall after she was allegedly attacked by a squirrel there. She claimed the mall was liable because it had “allowed the squirrel to remain on the premises” despite knowing it had a history of violence. (Doesn’t look like I ever followed up on that one—she lost.) In the Michigan case, of course, the squirrel was just an innocent victim.