A bathtub overflow in an upper-story Los Angeles County condominium has sparked a two-year-long chain of events that now threatens to leave a disabled woman who lived in the lower-story unit homeless.
Carolyn Kliaman is suing Farmers Insurance and 13 other defendants, including five other insurance companies, the condominium homeowner’s association, the owner of the condominium she’d rented, an insurance broker, a cleaning company and a long-term-stay hotel in Beverly Hills, according to her attorney Gary Smolker.
Kliaman’s rental condominium became flooded in December 2001 after a bathtub overflowed in an upstairs unit. A few months after the flood, Farmers Insurance allegedly asked Kliaman to move from her home to the Marriott Residence Inn of Beverly Hills, a nearby hotel, because toxic mold allegedly was found growing in the condo.
Mold isn’t a new condition in homes; however, increased public anxiety from publicity surrounding high-profile lawsuits in Texas and California has increased the perceived financial and health risks associated with water damage.
Smolker is drafting the complaint he expects to file in Los Angeles County Superior Court this week.
In the complaint, Kliaman will allege that each defendant failed to be decent and caused her pain and suffering and financial duress. The lawsuit will seek damages for abandonment and neglect of a dependant adult, theft, fraud, breach of contract and fiduciary duty and negligence, among other allegations, according to a draft of the complaint.
“It’s just a total tragic story,” Smolker said.
The lawsuit demands that the defendants pay for Kliaman to relocate and retrieve all of her belongings from storage. Smolker doesn’t think she should be held accountable for any expenses related to her having to move from her previous residence.
“She paid her rent, paid her (renter’s) insurance premium. She cooperated when they asked her to leave,” he said.
Farmers Insurance allegedly evacuated Kliaman from her residence in February 2002 and allegedly removed all her belongings from the unit after the insurer allegedly identified toxic mold it thought was caused by the bathtub overflow upstairs. Kliaman has resided since then at the Marriott Residence Inn in Beverly Hills. Her monthly living expenses have increased from $1,000 per month to about $5,000 per month, according to the draft complaint.
Farmers agreed to pay Kliaman’s living expenses at the temporary residence until her condo unit was safe to occupy, according to the draft complaint. But one year later, the condominium owner allegedly still had not repaired Kliaman’s residence so that she could move back into it. In April 2003 Farmers told her it would no longer pay to house her at the hotel, according to the complaint.
Kliaman allegedly has paid the hotel about $3,000 a month for the last year to avoid being evicted from the temporary residence. These payments were made “under economic, physical and mental duress to prevent plaintiff from being rendered homeless,” the draft complaint stated. She claims that she owes an additional $2,480 per month for the storage of her belongings.
Kliaman’s physical and mental disabilities make it impractical for her to find new accommodations herself, Smolker said. She suffers from lupus and often is unable to stand or walk on her own. The complaint alleges the events that led to her current living arrangements exacerbated her existing medical conditions because of the increased amount of stress.
Smolker said the defendants were bound to certain special duties, such as providing her with decent housing, because she is disabled.
“The court needs to protect plaintiff because plaintiff is incapable of protecting herself,” the complaint stated.
Farmers Insurance didn’t return a telephone call seeking information. An attorney for Allied Property, another insurer being sued, said he couldn’t comment because he hadn’t yet received the complaint.
When Kliaman moved out of her residence, she allegedly agreed to allow a company Farmers Insurance hired to clean and store her belongings while the condo was being repaired and remediated of mold. That company Steamatic of Los Angeles since then allegedly has refused to release Kliaman’s possessions until she pays about $24,000 in storage fees.
Kliaman’s mother continued to pay rent on the condominium because the defendants said she could reoccupy it once the repairs were completed, Smolker said. The landlord allegedly has refused to refund that rent money.
The complaint also will allege the defendants began water damage restoration efforts on the day of the flood, but failed to finish the job. Defendants’ “negligence” and “carelessness” in cleaning up the water damage caused the plaintiff physical and mental pain.
Smolker believes the defendants could’ve avoided the whole situation if they had responded promptly and properly to the original flood.
“You give people a chance to be greedy, and they can take the smallest problem and make it snowball out of control,” he said.
Smolker expects the case to challenge traditional liability claims on an insurance company and prove an instance of dependant adult abuse. He said defendants owe additional remedies in this case because the plaintiff is a disabled adult.
“The challenge is who to focus the blame on,” he said.
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