The P-I has an article today about an Arbor Heights couple still trying to get their insurance company to pay for the damage done when this happened during last winter’s storm:
Right after last week’s storm, we heard from the couple too, but hadn’t gotten the opportunity to go over and talk with them yet. Since their story’s out elsewhere in the mediasphere now, though, we thought you might want to read the version they sent out, press release-style, last week. Here it is, unedited:
During the terrible windstorm of December 2006, our home in the Arbor Heights neighborhood of West Seattle was severely damaged by a 140 ft. Poplar tree that was blown over on top of our house. My wife, our two small children and myself huddled in the basement unsure whether the house would crash down upon us under the weight of the tree. We were forced to crawl out to evacuate in the wee hours of the morning as the house was rendered uninhabitable by the strike. Frightened and shaken we sought refuge at our dear friends home nearby. Later that morning, we awoke from a brief, fitful amount of sleep to face the challenge. We thought since we had bought what we thought was a good homeowners policy with a well established company in Farmers Insurance, things would go well. How horribly wrong and naÃƒÂ¯ve we were. Here we are ten months later and we are still in the process of struggling (and I mean struggling) to reach a fair settlement with Farmers Insurance so that we can begin the rebuild process. You may have read about us in Amy RolphÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s story in the PI regarding the aftermath of the storm.
After receiving an incredibly low initial estimate for repairs from farmers, we hired the best public adjuster we could find (the president of the trade group for crying out loud) and hired a contractor that is considered an expert by insurance companies (they frequently give expert testimony for insurance companies in cases like ours), we hired a licensed, insured, experienced structural engineering firm. All of this was done in pursuit of getting true, accurate, real-world scope of work and cost information. It did take a long time, but we had hoped Farmers would have recognized that we didn’t just pull the information gleaned out of thin air and understood that we used quality, reputable local experts. The fact that even after hiring all of these experts and carefully putting together estimates, we are still having such a hard time reaching an equitable settlement reaffirms the fear that we would have been totally taken advantage of if we had tried to go it alone and reach an equitable settlement. Understand, the only ‘expert’ Farmers has hired is a firm called BC Investigative Engineers, that prepared the initial report that glossed over the damage and basically recommended a Ã¢â‚¬Ëœband-aidÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ approach to repairs. The entire side of Farmers position has been “handled” by the in-house, company employed adjuster who works from an office in Minnesota and has never been a licensed contractor in Minnesota , let alone Seattle . The fact that the numbers Brian has been coming up with are extremely favorable to Farmers is no surprise. I don’t sign his paychecks, so his loyalty to Farmers is a given. We didn’t expect impartiality, but we did expect fairness.
Another extremely frustrating element to this situation that we had no clue about back at the outset was the involvement of our mortgage companies. Since they are considered parties of interest in this case (even though if we were to sell the place as is-broken, we would be able to cover what we owe the banks), we are obligated to work through the “hall of mirrors” that they call their system for getting repair funds to us. This is an aspect of this experience I had no idea existed before this happened to us. This adds an incredible amount of time and anxiety to things as each bank requires weeks to process the most simple item and refuses to communicate directly with the other. We’ve had massive headaches over trying to get the two banks that have our mortgage and home equity line to communicate clearly what is required in order for the process to move forward through myriad delays. Countrywide representatives told me it was because they had never heard of someone having a home equity line with Chase Manhattan and a mortgage with them… Insinuating that Chase was an obscure choice and that our choice of using them was a possible reason for Countrywide not being able to release funds to us after close to a month of receiving them. I would caution other homeowners to discuss with their mortgage companies what it involves to process a claim settlement and in the event something happens plan on spending a ton of time on the phone calling them and waiting for them to act.
Words cannot describe the amount of anxiety this mess brings on. There is no compensation for it. It seems whenever there is a short straw to be drawn, we are the ones left holding it. The insurance company and the banks establish the system and they carefully set it up so that their interests, above ours, are protected. From our perspective, there really is no leverage we can employ to encourage either the insurance company or the banks to ‘do the right thing’ and be fair. We tried enlisting the Office of the Insurance Commissioner on multiple occasions and found that there really is nothing they can do in situations like this. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve reached out to our local politicians (Mayor Nickels, Dow Constantine, Christine Gregoire….) all to no response and no avail. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve even done a story with King5 TVÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s investigative unit, but they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t wish to air the piece until late next month. Farmers knows how to exploit the system they created. Its really a one way street. They can (and do) alter the rules at anytime whenever they choose to for their benefit, while we, the other half of the contract do not get that same power.
This whole mess has left us feeling completely disenchanted with Farmers. It shouldn’t be this way… Not this hard to get our home repaired as a result of a legitimate claim. All of the warm, reassuring promises they hawk in their ads like this ring hollow to us or are outright insulting http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5ICf4exz7I. It seems to us it really comes down to numbers and how much they can keep from paying their fair share. There is no consequence to mistreating us. I guess it boils down to the fact that Farmers is a business and the opposite of profit is loss and claims like ours (coincidentally referred to as losses) are nothing more than irritations that the company must combat. It seems to us they don’t care about us, our home or any of the promises they’ve made to us, they just care about the impact our claim has on their bottom line.
Needless to say, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve suddenly found ourselves earnest supporters of R67. Not by choice mind you. To us, its personal and its not about frivolous lawsuits, its about leveling the board. There is no leverage we can employ to spur them to do the right, decent and fair thing. At this point, they could give us the exact amount of money we are asking for in our estimate, and they would still win…. We need to pay our lawyers’ fees out of our own pocket– not to mention the untold distress this has caused us. We lose in that we are running out of time with additional living expense funds with each passing day. You should not have to wait close to a year for settlement of a legitimate claim. No way.
Insurance companies can punish people that don’t live up their end of a legitimate contract through various means, be that by dinging their credit report or filing suit… to even bringing criminal charges. Policyholders in Washington on the other hand, have no such weapons to employ in combating bad behavior from insurance companies. What is the worst consequence to them treating us this way? That they pay most of what we deserve? That they have to answer letters from the OIC?
Given the mention of R-67, we asked if they are affiliated with the campaign in any way. The family’s spokesperson said no. Farmers’ response to their allegations is in the P-I story. Here’s one other photo sent by the family, taken just after this all happened last year.