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Lakewood Soil-Damage Claims to Get State Review

May 17, 1987|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

A special ombudsman has been designated within the state Department of Insurance to review the rejected insurance claims of Lakewood residents whose homes have been damaged by the high sulfate content of soil beneath a tract near Del Amo Boulevard and the 605 Freeway.

"(The ombudsman) might not be able to help everyone, but there might be someone out there who has been ignored or taken advantage of," said Carrie Harper, a legislative aide to state Assemblyman Paul Zeltner (R-Lakewood), whose office requested the action.

Zeltner made the request, Harper said, after being contacted by constituents in the area whose homes have been severely damaged. In recent months, residents say, the concrete foundations of as many as 100 homes in the Sunshine Homes tract have begun disintegrating due to the acid-like sulfates. Experts disagree on why the sulfates are there, but say the only way to save the homes is to replace the foundation slabs with sulfate-resistant concrete--an arduous process costing up to $70,000 per home.

While most insurance companies have agreed to pay for the work, some--most notably State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.--have refused, claiming that their policies specifically exclude problems related to concrete.

"If it's bad faith on the part of the insurance companies, then the department should be involved," Harper said.

Zeltner plans to tour some of the damaged homes later this week with a representative of the insurance department, according to Harper.

In addition to requesting the special ombudsman, she said, the assemblyman has been in touch with the governor's office to ask for emergency funds for homeowners who have been hard hit. Failing in that, she said, he may introduce emergency legislation to the same end.

Homeowners unhappy with their insurance company's response to claims stemming from the sulfate-induced damage, Harper said, should send copies of their homeowners' policies along with completed insurance department complaint forms to Milo Pearson, 600 S. Commonwealth Ave., 14th Floor, Los Angeles, 90005. Forms can be requested, she said, by calling the insurance department's Los Angeles office at 1-800-233-9045, or by stopping by Zeltner's district office in Bellflower at 16600 Civic Center Drive, Suite 233.

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