ESL man claims State Farm wrongfully denied claim, racially prejudiced him

Kelly Holleran Apr. 3, 2009, 4:31am

An East St. Louis man has filed suit against State Farm Fire and Casualty Company and two of its employees, alleging they improperly denied his claim for damages to his home caused after vandalism and a fire.

John W. Bacon Jr. claims State Farm insured his home and one-room basement music recording studio at 3915 Monroe in East St. Louis when a large gray brick was taken from his front yard and thrown through a northwest rear window on July 22, 2007.

The brick broke the window, damaged the window's venetian blinds and cast broken glass on the carpet. In addition, the east side exterior wall siding and windows were damaged by vandalism and malicious mischief, according to the complaint filed March 31 in St. Clair County Circuit Court.

Bacon says his next-door neighbor, Carl Duncan, caused the $4,128.25 worth of damage to the house.

However, after Bacon endured six hours of examination under oath on Jan. 4 and Jan. 5, 2008, conducted by defendant Lisa Darr, State Farm denied Bacon's claim through a letter signed by defendant Brian Gifford, according to the complaint.

Bacon says that State Farm illegally conducted the examination under oath on behalf of the United States Drug Enforcement Agency. During the examination, they asked Bacon about drugs, cash stashed at his house, a person named Dewanzel Singleton and the finances of Lock 'Em Down Records. State Farm then provided a copy of the transcript to DEA, Bacon says.

In addition to the vandalism, Bacon's house also sustained significant smoke and fire property damage on Aug. 30, 2007, the suit states.

Bacon, who rented out his house, claims he sustained damages of $16,850.

But State Farm again refused to pay Bacon's claim, saying in a claim denial letter the fire involved "arson by the insured" and by "someone at your direction caused or procured the loss."

Bacon contends he was not even home at the time of the fire and was instead asleep at 1023 Northwestern in Fairview Heights.

"Insurer-Defendant denied coverage for Insured-Plaintiff's claim without conducting a complete, thorough and reasonable investigation based on all available information that was available to the Insurer-Defendant," the suit states. "Defendant-Insurer vexatiously and unreasonably established arson as a mere possibility, then investigated and looked only for clues and evidence to try to support its arson-by-the-insured theory, to the exclusion of other theories of loss supporting coverage, such as the Insured being a victim of arson by Carl Duncan, thereby rendering the arson fire accidental as to the Insured, thus a covered loss."

Bacon says State Farm also denied his claim based on the racial prejudice of its investigator, Lisa Darr.

Darr, who is a white female, questioned Bacon, a black male in his examination under oath.

"Insurer-Defendant exhibited plantation mentality, bias against, racial animus toward, and prejudice against, the Insured-Plaintiff, an African-American, both generally, and in particular by Caucasian female claim representative Lisa Darr making negative facial expressions in a disapproving manner toward him as an African-American male, plus mockingly criticizing his pronunciation of 'Cortez' as 'Cartez,'" the suit states.

Bacon's same property again sustained heavy smoke property damage and extensive fire property destruction on Nov. 1, 2007, according to the complaint.

Yet again, State Farm refused to pay Bacon's claim for property damages, this time saying that the property not used as a private residence at the time of the fire and again accusing Bacon of arson-fraud.

Bacon contends that the Illinois State Fire Marshal Arson Investigator Greg Vespa and State Farm's private detective both referred to the building as a residence. He also says he was only using one room in the basement as a recording studio.

In addition, he says East St. Louis Illinois Fire Department Captain Todd Hill reported the cause of the fire as undetermined.

In the five-count suit, Bacon is seeking a judgment of $248,340, plus pre-judgment interest at 5 percent, post-judgment interest at the maximum rate allowed by law and costs.

He is represented by William S. Daniel of Daniel Law Offices in Belleville.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number: 09-L-163.

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