By Brandon Lowrey
A Los Angeles homeowner hit a Farmers Insurance Co. unit with a proposed class action in California state court on Wednesday alleging the insurers illegally limited coverage of wildfire smoke damage by changing policies without adequate notice and saying it was “not actual fire damage.”
Plaintiff Ismael Frias, a resident of the Los Angeles suburb of Sylmar, said that Mid-Century Insurance Co. applied a $5,000 “Wildfire Smoke Sublimit” to his claim under his homeowner’s insurance policy. Mid-Century allegedly added the sublimit to the policy when Frias renewed in March, but didn’t clearly notify him. Frias also contends that the sublimit violates California a insurance law standardizing 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,” Frias argued.
Frias made a claim for damages he suffered during a wildfire on July 23. On that date, the massive Sand Canyon Fire was raging through the mountains north of Sylmar. The fire ultimately scorched nearly 65 square miles before it was contained in August, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.
In September, Frias received a letter from Mid-Century saying the damage to his home wasn’t “actual fire damage” and thus was subject to the $5,000 sublimit, according to the complaint.
Frias alleges claims of breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and violation of California’s Unfair Competition Act.
Frias 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 said.
Representatives for Farmers did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Frias is represented by Joshua H. Haffner and Levi M. Plesset of Haffner Law PC.
Counsel information for the defendants was not immediately available.
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.
—Editing by Joe Phalon.