RIVERSIDE COUNTY: Custom truck's insurance dispute

KURT MILLER/THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE
Roman Berber in the garage of his Corona home with trophy and belt for winning shows with his truck, in back is his mother Olivia on Thursday, March 15, 2012.
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In the world of customized low-rider trucks, “More Than Evil,” a wheeled sculpture by Corona’s Roman Berber, was more than beautiful. It was an award-winner, a glossy green work of art that unfolded like a transformer, with its engraved gold rims glowing.

With its wizard mural on the hood, the truck won awards at shows in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Fontana and San Bernardino. It won cash prizes along with trophies and was featured in custom-car magazines. Trophies filled rooms in the Berber home.

Police even asked him to appear with his truck at community events to bring a positive message. Since his teens, Berber has been a member of the Legends Car Club, which does not tolerate gang membership or drug use and has a strict code for language and behavior.

But now the truck, stolen in Las Vegas in October, is the subject of a lawsuit over its value.

Berber and his mother, Olivia, who owns the title to the truck, say their 2009 Farmers Insurance policy for “More Than Evil” was for $145,000. But their lawsuit says Farmers final offer was $16,208.45 — about $800 less than the truck’s original sale price 20 years ago. The truck started out as a 1992 Ford Ranger pickup.

The suit, filed in Riverside County Superior Court in early February, seeks damages for breach of contract, plus punitive damages.

Farmers has denied all of the allegations and denied that they have injured or damaged the Berbers. An attorney for the insurance agency did not return calls Tuesday and Thursday and did not respond to an email Thursday, seeking comment.

The Berbers believe “More Than Evil” was likely sold for parts or sent out of the country. Roman said the truck was too recognizable all over the West Coast to be sold here.

‘Playing Games’

“Farmers is really playing games on the fair market value of something that is one of a kind,” said the Berbers’ attorney, Howard S. Shernoff of Claremont.

The lawsuit contends an appraiser hired by Farmers to assess the show truck’s value depreciated every part of “More Than Evil” by 90 percent. “Yet under the law in California, the ‘actual cash value’ or ‘fair market value’ of an insured vehicle may not be influenced by depreciation.’”

“There’s pictures of what they are comparing it to,” Olivia, 67, said in an interview Thursday at the Berber family home. “It would be like comparing a Cadillac to a Volkswagen. Just because it’s got wheels doesn’t make it the same.”

Roman Berber, 36, described the last incarnation of “More Than Evil,” which his parents Hector, 62, and Olivia let him take over when he was 16, as a way to keep him focused and out of trouble.

His point of reference was a picture of “More Than Evil.”

“If you look, you see right there? The body — the cap comes off the frame. And then you can tell the steering wheel’s on this (the right) side…the front end is suicided , the hood is suicided …the doors are suicided with neons…the bed goes up, you see a little bit of the Jaguar suspension. The Cadillac lights, (the) molded interior.”

And then there’s the ostrich and alligator upholstery trim, the molded-into-the-interior sound system, the 350-cubic-inch Chevy engine with a blower and custom radiator, a Toyota front-end, a Ford Explorer grill, jack suspension, the chopped top, elaborate artwork, eight hydraulic pumps, sword gearshift lever — the list goes on.

‘Almost Fainted’

The truck and its trailer were stolen sometime during the evening or early morning of Oct. 7-8.

“Less Than Evil” was in town for the huge Low Rider Super Show. Hotel parking lot space for the trailer and truck was not available, so Roman parked the covered truck on a quiet cul-de-sac near a friend’s home, locked the trailer tow bar, and went to dinner with his companions. When they returned, it was gone.

Berber’s friends, on the phone to Olivia back in Corona moments after the theft was discovered, described her son as “spinning” when he saw the empty space where “More Than Evil” and the trailer had been parked.

“I almost fainted,” Roman recalled. “I was literally going around in circles.” He initially was unable to speak on the phone and tell her what had happened, Olivia said.

Shernoff said Farmers is not disputing that the truck and trailer were stolen.

Olivia said Farmers paid for the trailer immediately, but a month went by before they got an offer from the insurer for “More Than Evil.” She said it was for $10,000.

“I said, ‘$10,000 covers the rims,’ “Olivia recalled. Farmers reviewed their offer and the next one, she said, was for $12,500, “And I go, ‘What are we talking about? The mural on the hood?’”

After more reviews and the appraisal as a show truck, Farmers made its final offer, and the Berbers decided to sue.