Lawyer Fixes Meth Mess

Denver-based The Frankl Law Firm aids family with no other options

Peter Marcus, DDN Staff Writer
Monday, December 8, 2008

The Ashbaugh's and their daughter, Kelley Shreiner, experienced a homeowner's nightmare.

Fifty-eight-year-old Marcia and her husband, Bob Ashbaugh, 67, had put together a beautiful Loveland home. Deeply imbedded in "Christian values," the Ashbaugh's new little about drugs, let alone the manufacturing of one of the drug community's deadliest of sins — methamphetamine. They would later learn all too much about the production of meth after part of their home was turned into a laboratory.

The disease took ahold of their "beautiful little home" slowly after daughter Kelley fell in love with 29-year-old Benjamin Shreiner. The couple adopted a daughter. But a rare birth defect took the couple's daughter from them just before her fifth birthday.

The Shreiner's kept their faith, however, and tried for another child. But just before Christmas in 2003, the couple's first conceived child was lost.

Devastated, Benjamin Shreiner turned to drugs — his abuse of choice, meth, explained his mother-in-law. Living in the basement of the Ashbaugh's Loveland home — just like tenants — there were little signs of the drug abuse at first. But around the time the young couple had their first healthy child, in June 2005, Ben Shreiner's emotional state started to become more and more extreme, Marcia Ashbaugh told the Denver Daily News.

Violent, evasive

At times, Shreiner became violent. So much so that on one night Bob and Marcia Ashbaugh invited their daughter Kelley up to their room to sleep. But downstairs they could smell chemicals, followed by smoke. A fire had broken out in the kitchen.

Shreiner dodged the family's interrogations and concerns — he led them to believe that the fire was a complete accident not related to anything mischievous.

The saga eventually came to a climax one evening at an area hospital as Shreiner's emotional condition continued to deteriorate. Tested for meth use, the results came back positive — there was no more denying the abuse.

Marcia Ashbaugh eventually called the police after Schreiner refused to go to rehab and became violent toward her. Police officials found evidence of meth production and recommended that the family call the fire department. The fire department declared the house to have had a meth lab and the Ashbaughs were plastered across Loveland's newspaper.

House condemned

The house was condemned, marked by red tags on the doors and yellow tape wrapped around it like a bow. They were allowed five minutes to gather a few belongings but then they were shut out of their home. Colorado law required the Ashbaugh's to have the home remediated, but the cost was about $18,000 — money the Ashbaugh's did not have.

They filed an insurance claim with the company they had been with for over three decades. But their claim was denied — the insurance company claimed that contamination was not covered in their policy. The Ashbaugh's tried for two years to appeal the decision, but they struck out each time. The Ashbaugh's have been advised by counsel not to release the name of the insurance company.

Pleas for help to local attorneys were also denied — no firm was confident that they would be able to assist. The Ashbaughs had just spent $18,000 that they did not have and there was little hope for getting it back.

"It was really insult to injury," explained Marcia Ashbaugh. "I mean, we were literally fearful of losing our home … with the market, we did not have the equity in our home to borrow against it to pay for these things … we didn't have retirement, no savings, we were just living hand-to-mouth like everyone else these days."

Frankl to the rescue

Finally, the Ashbaugh's found some relief — a Denver-based law firm that was willing to "hold the insurance company's feet to the fire."

Attorney Brett A. Buchheit, with The Frankl Law Firm, knows first-hand how hard it can be to fight insurance companies. He defended insurance companies in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. Now he says he's "working for the other side."

Buchheit says meth remediation today can cost as much as $80,000. And homeowners without the money to do so and without an insurance company to honor a claim will soon own a home that cannot be occupied — though that mortgage statement is still popping up month after month.

Health concerns

There's also major health concerns to consider, especially those for children. Because the chemicals used to make meth are absorbed in carpets, children crawling around can develop serious skin and lung problems. Pets also develop open sores because of contact with the chemicals.

Shreiner's son, Evan, developed rashes as a result of the contact.

But The Frankl Law Firm has found a way to get around insurance contamination exclusions to bring peace of mind to its clients. Its clients are usually homeowners who had rented out their abodes, or who had purchased a home unaware that it had previously been used as a meth lab. Many are facing foreclosure or in the midst of foreclosure proceedings as a result.

Mischievous behavior or vandalism

The trick is showing that homeowners had been the victim of mischievous behavior or vandalism — an unknown meth lab would fall under that category, said Buccheit.

"The contamination exclusion is solid, you can't get around it. No amount of fancy lawyering is going to change the words of the policy," he said. "But if the property is treated in a manner inconsistent with the homeowners' rights, such as malicious mischief or vandalism, then that is covered."

The Frankl Law Firm has seen great success thus far with both settling and litigating cases involving homeowners who fell victim to unknown meth labs. The Ashbaughs say they were able to settle for an amount that paid most of their costs.

New beginning

The family has since cut ties with Benjamin Shreiner, who is finishing out his sentence related to the Loveland meth lab in a Larimer County halfway house. They sold their Loveland home and moved to Commerce City.

Marcia Ashbaugh says she only wishes that her insurance company had done right by her in the first place without having to put up such a fight.

"We paid that company for 35 years for all of our insurance so that in this kind of traumatic situation we would have some relief — that's what insurance is," she said. "In that moment you need something to bring some stability to you, some form of hope that life's going to be OK again … we didn't get that."