Firm Wins $25 Million Verdict for Client from Largest Title Company in the Country
FRESNO, CA - After more than three years of hard work and due diligence, the law firm of Baker Manock & Jensen (www.bakermanock.com) won a bad faith claims handling case on Tuesday, March 15th on behalf of their client, Rio Mesa Holdings, LLC vs. the largest title company in the United States, Fidelity National Title Insurance.
The Fresno jury handed down the $25 million verdict—with additional bad faith damages, finding Fidelity National guilty of improperly delaying an insurance claim, insurance misconduct and bad faith claims handling, along with the failure to disclose a significant relationship they had with lawyers hired to defend the $25 million title policy they sold to Rio Mesa Holdings, LLC in 2004.
Rio Mesa Holdings, LLC purchased the title policy from Fidelity National in escrow to protect their rights and title to the almost 1600 acre property known as “Rio Mesa” and intended that it would be an upscale residential home development with full access to the San Joaquin River in Madera County. Soon after close of escrow, however, it became apparent that other property owners along the river claimed they had a right to block Rio Mesa’s access to the river, which jeopardized the entire development.
After Fidelity National lawyers failed to successfully defend Rio Mesa’s right to river access, it left Rio Mesa Holdings, LLC to seek restitution from the title company in Fresno and the Fidelity lawyers in their defense case, which is still pending in San Francisco.
The successful verdict won this week against Fidelity National has severe repercussions for title companies across the country. It effectively says to the title company industry to be more careful about what they do and that California insurance laws are very strict and are designed to protect consumers.
Leading the litigation team for Baker Manock & Jensen were John Michael, senior litigation partner with over 30 years of experience in business litigation and real property disputes, and James Ardaiz, of counsel, and formerly Presiding Justice of the Fifth District Court of Appeal for California with more than 30 years of service as a trial and appellate court judge.
When asked about the case, Ardaiz responded, “The trial judge said it was the most complicated case he’d ever tried or seen in Fresno County . . . it certainly was the most difficult case I have ever seen as both a trial lawyer and a judge.” Shortly after the verdict, he reflected on his experience, saying, “John and I worked cohesively from beginning to end as a team and the full support of the firm was critical.” He added, “It was interesting to be on the other side of the bench again.”