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Juan L. Fernandez sues insurance company over damage done to mother's Bethlehem home

Published On: Feb 08 2013 11:58:06 AM EST   Updated On: Feb 08 2013 01:02:16 PM EST

A man has gone to court to force an insurance company to pay for vandalism that destroyed his mother's home on New Year's Eve two years ago.

But the insurance company says it isn't liable for the damage, because it says the man's brother caused it intentionally.

Juan L. Fernandez, who maintained a room with clothing, furniture and other belongings at his mother's home at 1941 Easton Ave., Bethlehem, filed a civil suit Wednesday in Northampton County Court against The Travelers Home and Marine Insurance Co., of Hartford, Conn. The Geico Insurance Agency Inc., of Frederickburg, Va., is also named as a defendant.

Fernandez says in his suit that he bought insurance on-line for his mother's home on July 13, 2009, and that the one-year policy was renewed in his name three times before his mother's home was ruined.

Travelers, however, denies any responsibility to pay for the theft of appliances, electric wiring, copper plumbing, and the home's furnace and baseboard heaters, or the holes in the walls in numerous rooms, or the spray painted derogatory comments on several walls, because Fernandez was living overseas at the time, not at the Easton Avenue home, even though his name was on the insurance policy.

In a Sept. 26, 2012, letter to Fernandez denying his claim, a Travelers representative cited a police report stating that Fernandez's brother, Eduardo Fernandez, was the only person living in the home when it was vandalized and that Eduardo had rented welding equipment from Leiser Rentals in Bethlehem on Dec. 31, 2011, and told one of the Leiser owners that he was going to gut his home, remove the furnace and leave his brother with nothing.

The insurance company letter said that one of the owners of Leiser Rentals told their representative that Eduardo was angry with his brother because Juan was to inherit their mother's home, and that by removing the oil tank from the home, the basement would be flooded when a delivery was made.

The Travelers letter said that even if Eduardo Fernandez was covered under Juan's policy, the company would not have to pay because Eduardo intentionally damaged his mother's home.

Fernandez's mother, Concepcion Fernandez, is also a party to the suit. According to court papers, she "suffers from a diminished mental capacity due to her advanced age," and has lived with Juan Fernandez in Venezuela since October 2011.

In the suit, Juan Fernandez says his brother "has been unemployed for much of his life and suffers from an addiction to controlled substances," and that in September 2011, he tried to "unlawfully access" his mother's money.

A month later, with his concern for the personal and financial welfare of his mother at "a tipping point," the suit says Juan Fernandez decided to move her to Venezuela.

Juan Fernandez discovered the damage to his mother's home on Jan. 16, 2012, and reported it to police and to Travelers, the suit says, noting that an insurance agent inspected the damage three days later and interviewed Juan Fernandez on May 21.

Juan Fernandez also says in his suit that about the time his mother's home was gutted, Eduardo stole a car he had stored on the property. The car was badly damaged when it was recovered, after Eduardo tried to sell it at an auto salvage yard, the suit says.

When Fernandez was informed on Sept. 26 that Travelers would not honor his claim, the home was "unsalvageable" because of "mold and decay," the result of being without heat, electricity or plumbing for almost nine months, the suit says.

The suit charges Travelers with breach of contract, negligence, bad faith insurance denial and unjust enrichment for refusing to pay Fernandez's claim.

In his suit, Juan Fernandez is asking for actual damages of more than $150,000; punitive damages at least three time the policy limit (which is not specified in court papers), and attorney's fees and other costs.