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July 17 2005 - Farmers Loses Judgment; The insurer must pay $9.9 million to two women it chose not to defend in a liability suit.


A Los Angeles jury has awarded a $9.9 million verdict to two women whose insurance company, Farmers Insurance Group refused to defend them when a neighbor was injured by a garage door at their condominium complex.

The two women, Linda Williams and B.J. Walker, who share a condo, were sued by their neighbor Juanita Watson after she fell in from of their garage in 2001 and broke her hip.  The homeowner association at the condominium complex where the three women live carried liability coverage with Farmers.

Wasson, who was 85 at the time, sued the homeowner association and Williams and Walker for reimbursement of $60,000 in medical bills, including surgery. Wasson alleged that Walker was at fault because she remotely opened her electric garage door before looking to see whether the driveway was clear.

Farmers defended the condo association in the case, but the insurer filed a cross complaint against Walker and Williams alleging that Wasson's fall was due to Walker's negligence.

Walker and Williams filed a bad-faith suit against Farmers.

Williams and Walker, who have lived in the complex for 13 years, were worried they would lose their home if they lost their liability case.

The women, who had already maxed out their credit cards to hire a lawyer, borrowed $6,500 more from friends to settle with Wasson for a portion of her medical expenses

"I guarded my credit all my life," Walker recalled Monday, "but we were just about tapped and I was so scared."

In a May bench trial, Superior Court Judge James R. Dunn ruled that Farmers had breached its insurance contract by failing to defend the two women.

And in a damages trial that ended Friday, a jury awarded $1.5 million to Walker and Williams for emotional distress, $8.3 million in punitive damages and $52,000 in contract damages.

In a statement, Farmers said, "We ... disagree with the verdict." The company said it was considering whether to ask for a new trial or to appeal.
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