Burned Cigars Insurance Claim Hoax

Message tell the story of a slick lawyer who successfully files an insurance claim for a box of expensive cigars because they were lost “in a series of small fires” as he smoked them.

Brief Analysis:
False. The story does not describe a real case. In fact, the story is an urban legend and variants of it have circulated since the 1960’s.

Subject: FW: BEST LAWYER STORY OF THE YEAR – Only in America


Charlotte, North Carolina. USA.

A lawyer purchased a box of very rare and expensive cigars, then insured them against, among other things, fire. Within a month, having smoked his entire stockpile of these great cigars and without yet having made even his first premium payment on the policy, the lawyer filed a claim 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!

(Stay with me.)

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, 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 lengthy and costly appeal process, the insurance company accepted the ruling and paid $15,000 to the lawyer for his loss of the cigars lost in the ‘fires’.


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 was sentenced to 24 months in jail and a $24,000 fine. This is a true story and was the First Place winner in the recent Criminal Lawyers Award Contest!


Detailed Analysis:
This message tells the story of a lawyer who first smokes a box of 24 expensive cigars and then manages to claim an insurance payout because the cigars were destroyed “in a series of small fires”. And the story gets even better when the reader learns that the slick lawyer is later jailed for “24 counts of arson”.

Stories of slick and manipulative individuals finally getting their justly deserved comeuppance are always well received. And, those who practice law are often held in quite low regard. The stereotypical (and probably unfair) concept of the cunning and unscrupulous lawyer out only to further his own ends seems to be widespread in Western society. Thus a tale that tells how a too-smart lawyer comes to grief after some callous manipulation of an insurance company (yet another despised entity) is bound to be very popular.
However, although it is certainly an entertaining story it does not describe a real case, at least not in its modern incarnation. In fact, the story is yet another urban legend and variants have circulated since the 1960’s. In earlier and less detailed versions, the central character was simply identified as a “cigar smoker” and no location was specified. Later versions moved the action to North Carolina. And, in the most common version currently circulating, the “cigar smoker” has morphed into a lawyer from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Although the exact origin of the tale is unclear, it seems unlikely that even the earliest version was based on a real case. Even in the 1960’s, it seems quite doubtful that an insurance policy would have been so poorly worded that the act of smoking a cigar in the normal way would have been considered by a court as a claimable fire. Moreover, the fact that the court ordered the insurance company to pay up means that the court did not find that the cigar smoker had committed a fraudulent act – no insurance company would be forced to pay if the claimant’s actions had been deemed fraudulent. Therefore, the smoker could hardly be charged for arson for simply smoking his cigars in the intended manner.

The story probably started life as a simple joke. According to information on About Urban Legends, a version of the story was included in a 1965 toastmaster’s manual and a similar version appeared on a Usenet discussion group in 1996. Since then, variants have circulated continually via email and websites. The above version of the piece is included in the “Lawyer Jokes” sections of many humour websites.

Incidentally, the “Criminal Lawyers Award Contest” does not appear to exist. Plugging the phrase into Google leads only to versions of the above hoax posted online or other articles about the story.

So, a great little story, but as with many other great little stories, the incidents described did not actually take place. Which moves me to again pen a gentle reminder that I’ve oft repeated on these pages. Just because a message claims to be true, does not mean that it actually is.

First published: 5th November 2008
By Brett M. Christensen
About Hoax-Slayer

Up in Smoke! (The Cigar Arsonist)
The strange (and untrue) case of the lawyer convicted of arson for smoking cigars

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