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Suit alleges Farmers did not honor insurance claims

Residents say company didn't properly assess Station fire damage to their homes.

August 18, 2010|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com
(Raul Roa/News-Press )

A lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses Farmers Insurance Group of refusing to honor claims filed by policyholders whose homes were damaged by the Station fire.

The plaintiffs, comprising more than 1,100 homeowners in the Station fire burn area, allege that the insurance company denied or minimized payouts on claims for damage stemming from fire, smoke, ash, soot and wind. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

Farmers Insurance spokesman Jerry Davies said the company's legal team was reviewing the lawsuit, but declined to comment further.

The Station fire broke out on Aug. 26 along Angeles Crest Highway two miles north of La Cañada Flintridge. It raged uncontained for more than a month, destroying 160,000 acres of forest, 89 homes and killed two Los Angeles County firefighters. It also blanketed foothill communities in a thick cloud of ash and left many homes and vehicles smelling of smoke for weeks.

Harriet Khteian, a plaintiff in the case who lives on upper Palm Drive in La Cañada, said her house was inundated with smoke and ash during the fire. But her troubles didn't end there.

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"The pool had ash in it for months, probably well into January," Khteian said. "Anytime there was wind or rain, which we get up here, it would end up in the pool and everywhere else around the yard."

A Farmers Insurance assessor came to her home and took samples, she said, but she was informed that there was only $600 in damage, not enough to meet her $1,000 deductible.

Meanwhile, a pool maintenance worker exhausted himself trying to keep a black film from accumulating on the bottom and sides of the pool, Khteian said. What was frustrating, she added, was that other foothill residents, some who lived farther from the burn area, received generous payouts for claims.

"It was a very deliberate system that Farmers put into place — deny people's claims, that way people become discouraged and give up," said Brian Kabatek, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

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