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14 THE PALM BEACH POST RESIDENCES ADVERTISING SECTION SUNDAY, DECEMBER T, 197 J ' Is storage owner liable for releasing renter's goods? Under the law, a mini-storage owner has a duty to safeguard the renter's property. By ROBERT J. BRUSS Tribune Media Services After selling her home, Lucy stored her furniture and valuable antiques at Personal Storage Inc. for $130 a month. When she failed to pay her mini-storage unit rent, her personal lock was replaced with a Personal Storage lock. The mini-warehouse owner then placed a legal notice to sell the goods in a newspaper. The items were valued at $196,000. A few days later, a woman who impersonated Lucy paid the $336 unpaid rent due. Without asking for identification, Personal Storage employees removed their lock and watched the impostor and her friend load Lucy's belongings into a U-Haul truck. Two days later, Lucy tendered her unpaid rent. She was told there had been a "mix-up" and her storage unit had been emptied. Lucy was emotionally devastated by the loss of her belongings. She went into severe depression upon losing her priceless family possessions. Lucy never returned to work and eventually filed bankruptcy. Later, Lucy sued Personal Storage Inc. for breach of contract, breach of warranty, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, negligence, and conversion. The attorney for Personal Storage replied it was a mistake and there should be no liability. If you were the judge would you award Lucy damages for her missing belongings, plus emotional distress damages, even Real Estate Law though she had not paid the mini-storage unit rent? The judge said yes. Under the law, a mini-storage owner has a duty to safeguard the renter's property and not to allow anyone showing up to pay the unpaid rent to remove it without identification, the judge explained. Not only is Lucy entitled to receive the value of her missing belongings, but she is also entitled to emotional distress damages for conversion of her personal possessions, he added. Based on Lucy's evidence, she is entitled to $59,559 for breach of contract damages, $59,559 for negligence damages, $87,466 for conversion damages, and $232,582 for emotional distress damages, the judge ruled. In addition, Lucy is entitled to recover her attorney fees as the prevailing party under the rental contract, the judge concluded. (Based on the 1997 California Court of Appeals decision In Gonzales v. Personal Storage, Inc., 65 Cal.Rptr.2d 473.) Can judgment be set aside? Joan, Akira and their children sued neighbor Gloria and her son, Lester, for assault, hate crimes, harassment, stalking, obscene or threatening telephone calls, invasion of privacy and general negligence. Lester allegedly tried to run down one of the children with his car, used vulgar vertence, surprise or excusable neglect" in failing to defend the case for its insured, Gloria. If you were the judge would you set aside the trial court's verdict due to State Farm's "mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect" in failing to defend its insured's case? The judge said no. He explained that a homeowner's liability insurance company has a very broad duty to defend its insureds against claims that create a possible liability. "The carrier must defend a lawsuit which potentially seeks damages within the coverage of the policy," the judge noted. "An insurer, however, cannot construct a formal fortress of the third party's pleadings and retreat behind its walls. The pleadings are malleable, changeable and amendable," he added. An insurer cannot complain about its loss after it refuses to defend the insured, the judge explained. Since State Farm failed to conduct any investigation to learn if Joan and Akira's claims were potentially insured, it must now pay the $240,000 judgment, which was covered by its homeowner's insurance policy, the judge ruled. Based on the 1997 California Court of Appeal decision In Eigner v. Worthington, 66 Cal.Rptr.2d 8M. language to Joan, spied on his neighbors, pointed a gun at them, threatened them and assaulted one of the children. Gloria cross-complained against Joan and Akira, claiming emotional distress and bodily injury. Their homeowner's insurer promptly accepted defense of the counterclaim. When Gloria tendered defense of Joan and Akira's lawsuit to her homeowner's policy insurer, State Farm, under the bodily injury and property damage coverage, State Farm refused to defend Gloria. Since Gloria could not afford to defend the lawsuit, she agreed to dismiss her cross-complaint and assigned her rights against State Farm to Joan and Akira. The case went to trial. Evidence showed emotional and physical injury to Joan and Akira due to Lester's conduct. Over $19,000 in medical bills were presented. The court found Gloria negligent and awarded Joan, Akira and their children $240,000 total damages plus $700 property damages. Their attorney demanded State Farm pay. State Farm then intervened in the case, moving to set aside the court's decision for State Farm's "mistake, inad nr angstrom corporation tzsr H REALTORS h l (561)746-3104 1-800-330-3104 pTpp p. LOCATED AT THE GATEWAY TO JUPITER, JUST 12 MILE EAST OF I-95 I I lWi Jf fc 1 JUPITER WEST PLAZA f I :J -j Bit SINCE 1978 6671 W. INDIANTOWN ROAD, SUITE 58, JUPITER, FLORIDA " Xzmmm -T, NORTH PASSAGE OxTM, fC. VW - a . ij; Golf membership included! Light & bright .FfSLlZ'' " A'L-r 1 ' : rt- wscreened porch, monthly fee includes " i ( ' "" Hs, ." the shores 'awn car(f. community pooltennis. Iuverwalk asSbi ' Impeccable 4 Bdrm., 3 bath lOx 10 office off master - CBS with tile $ 1 35,900. 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Asking $204,500, Gail & Jim Gnehm 885-8806. today with Kay Mowry 575-3981 " "SHORES" "MAKE.Y OLR HOME ON I HE RANGE" WHISPERING TRAILS CHOKES I AKH kOM" Beautiful 43 pool home. 2240 sq. ft. living area. Split 1 .45 Acres of green green grass. Beautiful 43 home, white Warmth abounds from this 4 bedroom 2.5 bath 2-slory home Pninv vn(lr . i;. ' , . , , , . . .... plan, vaulted ceilings, all located on a cul-de-sac on a on white kitchen. Keep your horses in the 4 lighted stalls Master suite on 1st flow! Mexican tile, brick fireplace, gorgeous S nV TZ 7 r oT , Preserve. $2 1 0.000 Make offer-Owner Anxious. Ron with tack room or in the pastures surrounded by new horse pool area, patio with 8 skylights. $295,500 Gail 4 Jim Gnehm SI V r ii ?7 r . ?Jff RXm mm j Wengaty 744-4048 ' ," fence. Asking $2W.9IX) inil & Jim Gnehm 885 8806. I 885-88116. ljnehms (-allOail t Jim Gnehm 885-8806.