From the Ashes

The fire destroyed Borjon Auto Center in 2014. Now, property owners Vicente and Tina Lopez run a used car lot on the site.

Late on Oct. 4, 2014 and into the morning of Oct. 5, a fire ripped through four trailers in King City. It then jumped to the 900 block of Broadway, eventually burning down Borjon Auto Center.

While most businesses started rebuilding as soon as possible, Mark Borjon never had the chance. It would take five years of litigation to finally get some reprieve.

That’s because Borjon was the owner of the business, but not the owner of the building. According to court documents filed in Monterey County Superior Court, Borjon and his landlords, Vicente and Tina Lopez, signed a complex lease agreement, in which Borjon wasn’t responsible for insuring the building. His landlords, however, were.

But Bojorn bought insurance anyway, from Sentry Select Insurance. His contract promised $2 million of coverage in case of a fire. Meanwhile, the Lopezes also purchased insurance – but a policy covering only about $870,000. It was enough to secure the Lopezes’ bank loan, but not enough to rebuild, with the total cost of damages at $2.3 million.

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Sentry used the lease language to void Borjon’s policy, claiming he had no “insurable interest.” Borjon sued the company in July 2015.

In the four years since, documents piled up in court. In one email, David Hartman, Sentry’s vice president of dealer operations, wrote to Sentry’s senior vice president, “We may be able to walk away from the building loss.” According to Larry Biegel, one of the attorneys representing Borjon, “That email was the smoking gun.”

A month-long trial began on June 10. On July 11, the jury reached a verdict; Sentry would pay $6.24 million in damages. With attorneys’ fees and interest, Sentry will pay $10 million in total.

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Marielle Argueza is a staff writer and calendar editor for the Weekly. She covers education, immigration and culture. Additionally, she covers the areas of Marina and South County. She occasionally writes about food and runs the internship program.

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