An Aldergrove family is seeking more than half a million dollars in compensation from Apple after their rural home burned down in a fire they say was caused by a charging iPhone.
Ian and Cathy Finley, owners of Laurica Farm at 25775 12 Ave., are drowning in debt and have been forced to close their business following the Oct. 11, 2016 fire.
Delays from both their insurance company, The Co-operators Insurance, and Apple have led them to max out all of their credit lines and borrow large amounts of money to survive and rebuild their home.
With the burned-out house located in the centre of their organic farm, they cancelled the events, workshops and education seminars they were planning, including a dinner that was to be hosted by Top Chef Canada, Matthew Stowe.
To save money, they have been doing all of the home demolition and rebuilding work themselves, making it difficult to keep up with their farming duties. As a result, this past January they announced on social media the closure of their business, which had been thriving prior to the fire.
The family has now borrowed enough money to finish construction on their home and to stay on their land for one year. After that, they will be forced to sell.
Desperate to keep their farm, last week the Finleys went public, posting a change.org petition that included their financial statements, email chains, emotional phone calls to Apple, photos, letters and impact statements.
“We’re asking (Apple) to cover our costs, which is just over $500,000. That doesn’t take into consideration any emotional trauma, or anything like that,” Cathy said.
“We’re desperate people. We don’t have the luxury of going through five years of litigation. We just don’t, we have a year to stay here on borrowed money and then it’s all gone. The community’s lost out, we’ve lost out, and our kids (Lauren, 17, and Jessica, 10) have been impacted hugely.”
Cathy said the family isn’t asking to become rich — they simply want to get their business back and keep the farm going. She has even suggested setting up the farm as a charity, so Apple can make a donation to them as a non-profit instead.
“I don’t think it’s too much to ask for them to put us back in the same place we were financially the day before the fire. We have had some insurance payout, we’re not hiding that fact. We thought we deserved a bit more, but we got as much as we could fight for. But there was so much uninsured loss that hasn’t been taken into consideration,” she said.
“It’s a combination of loss of the business, loss of earnings. We’ve had to stay here and build the house ourselves, we did all the demolition ourselves. All of the events, the weddings and things like that, that we were doing, haven’t been happening.
“And there’s little things, like all of the power went into the old house and out into the farm. So all of that had to be trenched and diverted throughout the farm, which was hours of work and materials. There’s things like, because of the delays we’re now building in the winter, so we’ve got that big gas heater drying everything out. Our Fortis bill is like $800 a month at the moment. All of those things are outside of what is a normal insurance policy.”
Part of the issue is that Apple and the insurance company are at a stalemate, Cathy said. Apple is requesting to see the burned phone to do their own examination, but the phone is currently with an independent agency.
“They just need to make a date and get their heads together now. So while they’ve been doing this back and forth within this legal framework, there’s been real people involved who are struggling to support their family and keep their business alive,” she said.
“We’ve found ourselves between a rock and a hard place with nowhere to maneuver.”
Apple said they are looking into the matter.
“We are looking into the customer’s claim, but have yet to be able to analyze the device,” said Tara Hendela, head of public relations for Apple in Canada.
According to the field report from the Township of Langley fire department, the fire originated in a leather chair in the living room where an iPhone 6 had been charging.
At about 10 a.m. Oct. 11, the day after Thanksgiving, Cathy came home from grocery shopping, plugged in her iPhone to charge, and went outside to do chores.
Around 10:30 a.m., she came back to the house to find it engulfed in smoke and flames.
Wearing an air cast from a previous foot injury, she ran down the country road to her neighbour’s house to call the fire department.
Fire crews quickly arrived and doused the flames. There was little fire damage to the structure, but significant smoke and heat damage, according to the report. Fire Prevention Officer Capt. Ken Strand wrote that the house was “not inhabitable” and would “likely be rebuilt.”
“The chair had significant damage and burn patterns indicating the fire started on the seat area of the chair,” the report states.
“It would appear that the phone or charger generated enough heat to ignite the leather chair and notebook and start the fire.”
However, the exact cause of the fire cannot be determined until lab results from examination of the phone are released, said Pat Walker, Township assistant fire chief.
There are still many unknowns, such as if the charging cord had damage, if the phone had been dropped, or if the phone had mechanical failures.
“The cellphone was found in the area of origin,” Walker told the Times.
“Until we have testing done, it’s only an assumption it was the phone (that caused the fire).”
After the incident, the Finleys settled in to a hotel, and eventually set up an RV on their property.
They spent a cold winter in the mobile unit, before taking some of their insurance money to convert a storage building into accommodations. Even with that, the laundry is in the barn — where the pipes freeze when it’s cold — and their washroom is outside.
The experience has been exhausting.
“It’s had an impact on our health, definitely. I haven’t been talking about this much publicly, but I am taking mood stabilizers and antidepressants to keep me going. Ian’s been the rock, but he’s also struggling. It’s a difficult one to manage,” Cathy said.
“It’s some trauma when you leave your property with just the clothes you’re standing up in and nothing else. And trying to be positive about that, trying to be in survival mode, because we’ve got two kids. And their thoughts and feelings and welfare are paramount at that time.”
Since going public, Cathy said the support from clients and the Langley community has been more than they could have hoped for. She has even received messages from strangers who have had similar incidents happen with their smartphones.
“I’m certainly now going through a period of feeling very exposed and vulnerable. And I’m a person who put naked photos of ‘naked gardening day’ online, so it takes a lot to make me feel exposed,” Cathy said.
“But definitely talking about things like the mental health issues that we’ve all experienced has been difficult. I know we should be open and we should be talking about these things, and I promised transparency, so that’s why I have to deliver.
“Again, we’ve got to have some integrity in delivering those things. It was all or nothing. If you go down that route and you’re asking somebody to do the right thing, you can’t put out half of it, you can’t cherry pick. You’ve got to own it.
“I think it speaks to our desperation. I think it speaks to our commitment to want to keep the farm going and the good work that the farm was doing. And our horror that we might lose our house again and have to uproot our family again — and all because of an iPhone charger.”
The Finley’s petition can be found online at www.change.org.