The Trees that Washed Away

True Crime Stories of Insurance Fraud Number 24

See the full video at and at Zalma, Esq., CFE presents videos so you can learn how insurance fraud is perpetrated and what is necessary to deter or defeat insurance fraud. This Video Blog of True Crime Stories of Insurance Fraud with the names and places changed to protect the guilty are all based upon investigations conducted by me and fictionalized to create a learning environment for claims personnel, SIU investigators, insurers, police, and lawyers better understand insurance fraud and weapons that can be used to deter or defeat a fraudulent insurance claim.

Excessive Rain Tempts Farmer to Attempt Fraud

Northern San Diego County, California is avocado country. Trees grow everywhere. The heavy green fruit is a cash crop in an area that cannot resist guacamole.

The hills and valleys of California were once the bottom of the sea. Bedrock, at best, is sandstone. The soil is thin and porous. It is perfect soil for growing avocados because it drains well. Avocado farmers irrigate the roots to have enough, but not too much, water.

The farmers cannot, however, control the rain. If Southern California receives one of its rare, real, rainstorms, the soil turns to viscous slime. Gravity moves the hillsides into the valleys.

Insurer Concludes Settlement if Cheaper than Fighting Fraud

The insurer, with evidence that would support a rescission, decided to be practical rather than aggressively pursue its rights. Counsel met with the insured, showed that the number of trees counted from the aerial photographs showed less trees than those for which the claim was presented. Over a fine restaurant meal, the insured and counsel for the insurer settled the claim for the value of the tress counted in the aerial photographs less the value the remaining trees. Both considered the settlement to be favorable settlement. The underwriters for the insurer vowed to never insure trees on a hillside again.

This is not the type of fraud insurers’ normally face. There was no intent of the insured to defraud the insurer when he acquired the policy and he had no idea of the true number of trees since his purchase did not list a number of trees and he never did an inventory.

In fact, he did deceive the insurer but he had none of the malice required to prove fraud with regard to the acquisition of the policy. He did, however, overstate the number of trees he claimed lost.

Paying his claim was an economic decision. If justice could have been done, the insured would have been paid nothing. The insurer appeared to have wasted its assets because it knew it was less expensive to settle than to fight.

© 2022 – Barry Zalma

Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, now limits his practice to service as an insurance consultant specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders.

He practiced law in California for more than 44 years as an insurance coverage and claims handling lawyer and more than 54 years in the insurance business.

Subscribe to “Zalma on Insurance” at and “Excellence in Claims Handling” at

You can contact Mr. Zalma at,, and . Mr. Zalma is the first recipient of the first annual Claims Magazine/ACE Legend Award.

You may find interesting the podcast “Zalma On Insurance” at;  you can follow Mr. Zalma on Twitter at; you should  see Barry Zalma’s videos on; or videos on Go to the Insurance Claims Library – The last two issues of ZIFL are available at 

This entry was posted in Zalma on Insurance. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.