KING CITY — California Supreme Court has denied the final appeal from Sentry Select Insurance Co., upholding an $8.4 million jury award judgment to Borjon Auto Center King City Inc.
A California appeals panel had previously upheld the judgment in May 2023. The most recent decision ended a nearly 10-year legal battle headed by Alexander Stuart of San Jose and the Biegel Law Firm of Monterey, retained by Borjon in a suit claiming that Sentry had breached its insurance contract and the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Including interest accrued from the initial judgment, the final award exceeded $12 million.
Late on Oct. 4, 2014, and into the morning of Oct. 5, 2014, a fire spread from a mobile home park adjacent to Borjon’s auto dealership, causing more than $4 million in physical property damage to the building, equipment, motor vehicles and parts.
Owner Mark Borjon had purchased a fire insurance policy from Sentry Select of Stevens Point, Wisc., which he believed gave him up to $2 million of insurance coverage if fire destroyed the building from which he operated his new and used car business.
Sentry took the position that it could walk away from this loss, and that is precisely what it did — refusing to pay to rebuild the building, the only one in the King City area equipped to house a new and used car business.
The case was tried in Monterey County Superior Court between June 10 and July 11 of 2019 before the jury found that Sentry had indeed breached its insurance contract and acted in bad faith and with malice. The jury ultimately awarded $6.24 million in punitive damages for a total verdict of more than $8 million, which included an award of attorneys’ fees and prejudgment interest.
This judgment was among the 50 highest jury verdicts in the State of California for the year 2019.
Not satisfied with the jury’s verdict, Sentry filed an appeal to the 6th District Court of Appeal in San Jose. This appeal forced Borjon to defend his hard-fought verdict and required his attorneys to review thousands of pages of trial transcript, file briefs in support of the judgment Borjon had won, and to appear before the Court of Appeal to argue the case.
On May 31, 2023, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal issued its opinion that unanimously upheld the judgment in every respect, describing Sentry’s conduct as “reprehensible.”
Sentry then sought to have the opinion of the Court of Appeal overturned by the California Supreme Court. After more briefing, the matter was submitted, and on Sept. 13, 2023, the state’s highest court denied Sentry’s application, finally ending the case.
Sentry issued checks to Borjon totaling just more than $12,250,000, which included interest at 10% on the jury verdict until the time the Supreme Court ended the matter.
“While $12 million-plus is a lot of money, Mr. Borjon had to wait nine years to receive the insurance benefits he paid for,” said Lawrence Biegel, the firm’s managing partner. “I am sure he would rather have not had to go through all he had to endure and simply have gotten the benefits he deserved so he could rebuild his business in King City.”
Excited to put the matter behind him, Borjon is grateful to his team of attorneys, although critical toward Sentry and its attempt to simply walk away from an insurance claim.
“They promised coverage and when a legitimate claim was made, they simply ignored me for almost 10 years,” he said. “I sincerely hope no one has to be put through this in the future.”