News Room

Ventura Family Sues Farmers for Limiting Coverage for Smoke and Ash Damage and Jeopardizing Their Child’s Health

VENTURA, CA (August 7, 2018)— Homeowners impacted by the devastating Thomas Wildfire filed a lawsuit in Ventura County Superior Court against Farmers Insurance for engaging in bad faith by failing to cover the costs associated with extensive smoke and ash damage.

The plaintiffs–Sean Hellman, Anna Christina Marquez and their two children–ran for their lives on December 4, 2017 as the threat of wildfire chased them from their home. The fire left their neighborhood as one of the hardest hit neighborhoods in the city of Ventura. Rows of homes on their street that sit near the hillside were incinerated and leveled in the blaze.  Fortunately, their own home narrowly escaped being destroyed by the flames.

However, the landscaping and irrigation system burned and the house sustained extensive and dangerous smoke, soot and ash damage. Sean Hellman’s primary concern was the health of his youngest son, who suffers from chronic and severe asthma.

“One of my requests was for testing of harmful contaminants, especially given the fact there was a public health warning that the ash burned from homes and other items will likely contain toxic substances like lead, chemicals, and asbestos,” said plaintiff, Sean Hellman.

Hellman filed a claim with Farmers and made requests for his home to be restored to the toxic free pre-fire condition.

According to the complaint, Farmers rejected these requests citing not all of the remediation was covered by his policy, despite the home being “yellow tagged” by the city which restricted access to the property.

“Our client paid his premiums and expected his insurance company to step up in his time of need,” said plaintiff attorney Brian S. Kabateck. “Instead, Farmers is doing everything it can to avoid paying these justified claims, in violation of their contractual obligations, to protect its own bottom line,” added Kabateck.

The suit in part challenges Farmers’ endorsement number 6965A, which imposes a sublimit of $5,000 for damage caused by wild fire smoke, soot, ash or odor.  According to Dennis Neil Jones, Kabateck’s Ventura co-counsel, the Los Angeles Superior Court has already ruled that sub-limits such as the one contained in the Farmers wildfire endorsement, are unenforceable under California law, because they are not substantially equivalent to the homeowner insurance coverage required by the California Insurance Code.

The Thomas Fire, considered the largest wildfire in California’s history, affected Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. It burned over 280-thousand acres and destroyed more than 1,000 structures in December 2017.

PDF of complaint: