$8 million verdict for insurance bad faith after elderly man’s home is destroyed by fire. Los Angeles County.
Insurance company delayed and low-balled payment for re-building of home after fire; also intervened in plaintiff's case against a separate defendant, attempting to recover more for itself at plaintiff's expense.
- Case Name: Robert Christopher v. Residence Mutual Insurance Company
- Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior/B223849
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, March 15, 2012
- Date Action was Filed: Tuesday, January 12, 2010
- Type of Action: Insurance – Bad Faith, Claims Handling
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Ruth Ann Kwan
- Plaintiffs: Robert Christopher, 86, Marine Corps veteran and retired character actor
- Defendants: Residence Mutual Insurance Company
- Type of Result: Jury Verdict
- Gross Verdict or Award: $8,062,050
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 1 week
- Jury Deliberation Time: 1 1/2 days
- Jury Polls: 10-2
- Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Plaintiff recovered a judgment in the underlying action against the third-party tortfeasors.
- Attorney for the Plaintiff: Kabateck Brown Kellner LLP by Brian S. Kabateck and Joshua H. Haffner, Los AngelesGeragos & Geragos by Mark Geragos and Pat Harris, Los Angeles
- Attorney for the Defendant: Fonda & Fraser LLP by Michael A. O’Flaherty, GlendaleLaw Office of Jack T. Humes by Jack T. Humes, Agoura Hills
- Plaintiff's Technical Experts: Guy Kornblum, insurance bad faith, San Francisco
- Defendant's Technical Experts: None
Facts and Background
- Facts and Background:
Date of incident: Jan. 17, 2008
Facts: A 33-foot long, construction-company dump truck crashed into the home of Plaintiff and his partner, Patricia Freiling as it carried 15 tons of dirt from a work site and rounded a downhill corner. The crash severed a gas line, causing an explosion. Christopher and Freiling were briefly trapped in the home by fire and smoke and suffered minor injuries in their attempt to escape.
Defendant Residence Mutual, Christopher's homeowner insurer, paid approximately $220,000 on his claim, but held back some monies and charged Christopher almost $20,000 for the work of an engineer and contractor. Christopher sued the driver of the truck, the trucking company, the City of Los Angeles, and the developer that hired the trucking company (Christopher v. Salmeron).
Defendant Residence Mutual intervened for reimbursement of amounts paid under policy, per its subrogation rights. Residence Mutual contested Christopher's third-party claims at trial in Christopher v. Salmeron, to drive down his recovery and get part of the $750,000 in liability insurance to satisfy Residence Mutual's subrogation claim.Please show claims, contentions and all disputed matters under contentions rather than facts. Facts stated here should be only those in evidence.
- Plaintiff's Contentions:
That defendant delayed, low-balled, and underpaid plaintiff and improperly paid third parties out of his policy limits. That defendant placed its own interests above plaintiff's interest in the Christopher v. Salmeron action by attacking his third-party claims to drive down his damages so that defendant could get part of the $750,000 in Salmeron's liability limits. Plaintiff contended that this delayed his receipt of the $750,000 in third-party insurance, thereby preventing him from rebuilding his home, and causing him to continue to incur $4,500 per month in rent, among other damages.
- Defendant's Contentions:
That defendant did not breach contract or act in bad faith.
Demands and Offers
- Defendant §998 Offer: $125,466.43, and a waiver of Residence Mutual’s subrogation claim.