A Northridge family has won $3.3 million in damages in a lawsuit against 20th Century Insurance for its failure to promptly pay claims for repairs and temporary housing following the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
A jury added $2.6 million in punitive damages to $700,000 in actual costs following a 12-week trial in Los Angeles Superior Court. Attorneys for the insurance company are expected to appeal the award.
The decision last Tuesday was a victory for Bernard and Ann Mack, an elderly couple who shared a house and guest house on their property with their daughter, Pamela Mack, and several other relatives.
The insurance company claimed that the family members misrepresented their living expenses while their home was under repair.
"I am very disappointed to learn of the verdict in the Mack case," said Ric Hill, vice president of corporate relations for 20th Century Industries. "Out of more than 46,000 earthquake claims the company received, the Mack case is one of only six claims involving a rare voiding of policy clause."
Attorneys for the plaintiffs said the Mack suit may serve as a "lead case" in settling other claims against the insurer. "The plaintiffs collectively hope that this case will break the logjam and finally resolve the many cases that are bogged down in litigation," said attorney Dale Washington, an associate of David Prestholt, trial attorney for the Macks and others.
In another trial last year, a jury found 20th Century guilty of fraud and bad faith for denying a quake-damage claim filed by schoolteachers James and Lorraine Meyer of Tarzana. They were awarded $6.75 million in punitive damages, but that amount was later reduced by a judge to $500,000. Both the Meyers and 20th Century appealed the decision and are awaiting a new trial.