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MALIBU : 4 Fire Victims Sue County, Claim Bad Road Access to Homes

February 02, 1995|KATHLEEN KELLEHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Four Malibu residents who lost their homes in the disastrous 1993 wildfire have sued Los Angeles County and the city of Malibu, blaming inadequate road access for the destruction of their properties and possessions.

The plaintiffs--Christopher Kortlander, Lynda Sullivan, Marc Winnikoff and Dorothy Caruso--say the closure of Rambla Pacifico, blocked since 1984 because of a landslide, prevented firefighters from getting to homes and businesses in time to save them. All four plaintiffs had houses in lower Las Flores Canyon.

The lawsuit also requests that the courts declare the complaint a class action, contending that 280 other individuals and businesses also suffered emotional and financial damages.

"After the head of the fire passed, many homes and much of the Las Flores watershed caught fire and burned unnecessarily," the lawsuit says. "Had Rambla Pacifico been open and passable, much of the area would have been saved by firefighting efforts."

Said Scott L. Grady, the attorney representing the plaintiffs: "The county knew about the condition of Rambla Pacifico for many years and failed to act at the expense of homeowners."

Malibu City Atty. Christi Hogin said she had not yet read the lawsuit and would not comment.

The plaintiffs, who have asked for unspecified damages, had earlier filed claims with the state to compensate them for their losses in the fire. The claims were rejected in July, Grady said.

The lawsuit is the third taken against Malibu and the county over Rambla Pacifico, which was excluded from Malibu's city limits under an obscure law.

The first case was filed in 1989 by homeowners who sued the county in an effort to get Rambla Pacifico reopened. The group added the city to the lawsuit after Malibu's incorporation in 1991. But a Los Angeles Superior Court judge excused the city from the lawsuit, ruling that the road is outside its limits. The county was found liable and has a pending appeal.

A second lawsuit against the city and county was filed by six homeowners whose Las Flores Canyon houses also burned in the 1993 fire. As in the latest lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed that access to their burning houses was inadequate.

A Superior Court judge in July ruled that the city was not responsible for Rambla Pacifico road because it is outside Malibu's city limits. That case is also on appeal.

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