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Angeles County | Community News File / Crenshaw

Cleaning Firm, Owner Win Damages From Insurer

January 08, 1998

A Crenshaw-area dry-cleaning operator has won a $4.6-million punitive damage award from a Los Angeles jury which found that State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. wrongly accused him of burning down his business and of then trying to defraud the insurer.

Abdurahman Baharun, 39, and his company, Calharr Inc., won the verdict this week in Los Angeles Superior Court after a trial that began Oct. 24, attorneys said.

The $4.6-million award is on top of a combined $860,300 in general damages awarded Dec. 23 to Baharun and the company, according to court records.

The case stemmed from an April 17, 1994, fire that destroyed System Cleaners, a dry-cleaning plant in the 3600 block of Crenshaw Boulevard. Baharun had purchased a standard fire insurance policy from Bloomington, Ill.-based State Farm in October 1992, according to legal papers filed by Baharun's attorney, Thomas G. Stolpman.

Jurors were specifically asked if Baharun set the fire. They said he did not.

Stolpman, a past president of the State Bar of California, called the jury awards a "message to State Farm." He said: "They'd better start acting like a good neighbor and stop trying to make a profit off people who pay premiums for protection."

State Farm officials could not be reached for comment. Bartley L. Becker, the attorney who handled the case for the insurer, said he was disappointed in the verdict and intends to appeal.

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