Family files two suits: One for home fire, another for discrimination

By Cara Bailey | Dec 27, 2007

CHARLESTON - A Charleston family has filed two separate suits against a local heating and cooling business, after their home caught on fire after a new heating unit was installed.

The family claims they were discriminated against because of their race, which is a violation of the West Virginia Human Rights Act.

Kitrena Michael, with her mother Doris Michael and brother Todd Battle, filed suits Dec. 6 in Kanawha Circuit Court against Appalachian Heating and Cooling Inc. and State Auto Insurance Company.

Attorneys J. Michael Ranson and Cynthia Ranson are representing the family in both suits.

According to the suits, Kitrena Michael, Doris Michael and Battle, who are black, resided in housing provided by Charleston-Kanawha Housing Authority. During the time they lived in the house, the housing authority contracted Appalachian Heating and Cooling to install or repair various units in their homes.

The family claims a heating and cooling unit was installed in their South Park Village home prior to Nov. 21, 2006. Kitrena Michael claims she told workers who were installing the unit that she smelled smoke or something burning on two different occasions.

However, she claims the workers ignored, rebuffed and rebuked her.

According to the suits, during the course of the installation, workers with Appalachian Heating and Cooling negligently cut and damaged copper piping inside the kitchen wall.

The suits claim the actions inside the wall caused a fire to erupt in the home.

The fire caused extensive fire, smoke and water damages to the home, which resulted in a total loss of property.

State Auto Insurance Company handled the claims for the family. According to the suit filed by Kitrena Michael, the insurance company wrongfully denied her fair and reasonable compensation for the loss and damages she incurred. She claims no value was placed on the damages, despite the fact that she lost everything.

In the suit filed by Doris Michael and Todd Battle, State Farm placed a total value of $2,500 on their home. The suit says State Farm failed to properly, fairly and reasonably evaluate, process and adjust the plaintiffs' fire loss claims because of their race and the fact they reside in public housing.

In both suits, compensatory and punitive damages are sought.

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