Santa Clara, CA: A Farmers Insurance Co., unit is facing a bad faith insurance class action lawsuit over allegations it illegally limited coverage of wildfire smoke damage by not providing adequate notice that it had changed it policies and stating that the damage was "not actual fire damage."
Filed by Los Angeles resident Ismael Frias, who lives in the suburb of Sylmar, the complaint states that Mid-Century Insurance Co. applied a "Wildfire Smoke Sublimit" of $5,000 to his claim under his homeowner's insurance policy. Mid-Century allegedly added the sublimit to the policy when Frias renewed in March, but failed to clearly notify him of the change. Additionally, the suit states that the sublimit is in violation of California insurance law which standardizes fire damage policies.
"The purported $5,000.00 Wildfire Smoke Sublimit violates Insurance Code section 2071, is not reflected on the declarations Page, is not plain, clear and conspicuous, and is unenforceable," the suit states. According to the complaint, Frias claimed for damages he experienced as a result of a wildfire on July 23, 2016. On that date, the massive Sand Canyon Fire was raging through the mountains north of Sylmar. Ultimately, the fire scorched almost 65 square miles before fire crews were able to contain it in August, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.
However, Frias received a letter from Mid-Century in September, stating the damage to his home wasn't "actual fire damage" and thus was subject to the $5,000 sublimit, according to the suit.
Frias is claiming breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and violation of California's Unfair Competition Act.
The suit seeks to establish a class of California homeowners who had policies containing the wildfire smoke sublimit and who had submitted claims for wildfire odor, soot, smoke, char or ash damage. He also seeks compensatory and punitive damages, along with attorney's fees, according to the complaint.
"As a result of defendants' conduct, plaintiff and members of the class and subclass have been damaged, including but not limited to, paying insurance premiums for coverage rendered illusory by the unlawful Wildfire Smoke Sublimit," the complaint states.
Frias is represented by Joshua H. Haffner and Levi M. Plesset of Haffner Law PC. The case is Ismael Frias et al. v. Farmers Group Inc. et al., case number BC638626, in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles.