Homeowners sue Farmers insurance over Station fire claims

A lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses Farmers Insurance Group of refusing to honor claims filed by policyholders whose homes were damaged by the Station fire.

The plaintiffs include more than 1,100 homeowners in the Station fire burn area. The suit alleges that the insurance company denied or minimized payouts on claims for damage stemming from fire, smoke, ash, soot and wind. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

Farmers spokesman Jerry Davies said the company’s legal team was reviewing the lawsuit, but declined to comment further.

The Station fire broke out Aug. 26, 2009, along Angeles Crest Highway two miles north of La Cañada Flintridge. The fire raged uncontrolled for more than a month, consuming 160,000 acres of forest and destroying 89 homes. Two Los Angeles County firefighters died in the blaze, which blanketed foothill communities in a thick cloud of ash and left many homes and vehicles smelling of smoke for weeks.

Harriet Khteian, a plaintiff in the case who lives on upper Palm Drive in La Cañada, said her house was inundated with smoke and ash during the fire. But her troubles didn’t end there, she said.

“The pool had ash in it for months, probably well into January,” Khteian said. “Any time there was wind or rain, which we get up here, it would end up in the pool and everywhere else around the yard.”

A Farmers Insurance assessor came to her home and took samples, she said, but later she was informed that there was only $600 in damage, not enough to meet her $1,000 deductible.

Meanwhile, Khteian said a pool maintenance worker exhausted himself trying to keep a black film from accumulating on the bottom and sides of the pool. She said it was frustrating because other foothill residents, including some who lived farther from the burn area, received generous payouts for claims.

“It was a very deliberate system that Farmers put into place — deny people’s claims, that way people become discouraged and give up,” said Brian Kabatek, an attorney for the plaintiffs.