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Hellinger v. Farmers Group

Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate District, Division Four

August 24, 2001, Decided

No. B138734.

Opinion

 [*1052]  [**271]   EPSTEIN, J. 

We are asked to decide whether a claim for damages from the Northridge earthquake is time-barred by the one-year limitations provision in an insurance contract. We conclude that Code of Civil Procedure section 340.9 applies and extends the deadline for presenting the claim. 1 

 [***2]  FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL SUMMARY

Jay Hellinger owned a home in Los Angeles County which was damaged by the Northridge earthquake of January 17, 1994. He and his brother, Lee Hellinger, lived in the residence. The Hellingers purchased a single homeowners insurance policy from Farmers Insurance Exchange (Farmers), Fire Insurance Exchange, and Mid-Century Insurance Company (Mid-Century). In 1992, the Hellinger brothers purchased a separate earthquake insurance policy for the home from Mid-Century. The earthquake policy provided: "We may not be sued unless there has been full compliance with all the terms of this policy. Suit on or arising out of this policy must be brought within one year after the loss occurs." Before the Northridge earthquake, Lee Hellinger transferred his interest in the residence to his brother, Jay.

Within days of the earthquake, the Hellingers noticed cracks in interior and exterior walls, the driveway, patio, gazebo, and a block wall; a leak near the chimney; and electrical problems with various appliances. Farmers agent Howard Hammer called the Hellingers within a week of the earthquake to ask about the status of their home. Lee Hellinger told Hammer about [***3]  the damage to the home. After some discussion, Mr. Hammer told Lee Hellinger that he thought the losses would not exceed the deductible and that damages to the gazebo, retaining wall, sidewalk, Jacuzzi, and landscaping were not  [*1053]  covered by the policy. Agent Hammer did not report the loss to Farmers nor did he ask an adjuster to inspect the Hellinger home.

In April 1994, the Hellingers hired a contractor to repair the visible damage caused by the earthquake, at a cost of $ 4,350. In July 1995, while gardening, Lee Hellinger noticed a large crack in the concrete foundation under the soil line. He reported this damage to Mr. Hammer and asked for an inspection.

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91 Cal. App. 4th 1049 *; 111 Cal. Rptr. 2d 268 **; 2001 Cal. App. LEXIS 670 ***; 2001 Cal. Daily Op. Service 7480; 2001 Daily Journal DAR 9131

JAY HELLINGER et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. FARMERS GROUP, INC., et al., Defendants and Respondents.

Subsequent History:  [***1]  As Modified September 24, 2001.

Review Denied January 29, 2002, Reported at: 2002 Cal. LEXIS 1221..

Prior History: APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Super. Ct. No. PC018040. Jerold A. Krieger, Judge.

Disposition: Reversed.

CORE TERMS

earthquake, insurers, impairment, limitations period, revives, contractual, contracts, damages, argues, statute of limitations, one-year, provisions, one year, subdivision, regulation, impairment of contract, cause of action, trial court, good faith, litigated, fire insurance policy, public purpose, fair dealing, homeowners, invalidate, contractual obligation, summary adjudication, summary judgment, effective date, Reserves

Governments, Legislation, Statute of Limitations, Extensions & Revivals, Insurance Law, Claim, Contract & Practice Issues, Claims Made Policies, General Overview, Civil Procedure, Affirmative Defenses, Revival, Constitutional Law, Congressional Duties & Powers, Contracts Clause, Time Limitations, Property Insurance, Coverage, All Risks, Policy Interpretation, Natural Phenomena, Interpretation, Obligations, Notice Requirements, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Contracts Law, Contract Conditions & Provisions, Energy & Utilities Law, Oil, Gas & Mineral Interests, Purchase Contracts, Police Powers, Contract Interpretation, Good Faith & Fair Dealing, Business & Corporate Compliance, Contracts Law, Types of Contracts, Covenants, Fiduciary Responsibilities, Fiduciaries, Liability & Performance Standards, Good Faith & Fair Dealing