Another December ’06 windstorm loose end

October 24, 2007 at 5:04 am | In December 2006 windstorm, West Seattle news | 18 Comments

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:

treevhouse.jpg

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 naïve 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 Rolph’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 ‘band-aid’ 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. We’ve reached out to our local politicians (Mayor Nickels, Dow Constantine, Christine Gregoire….) all to no response and no avail. We’ve even done a story with King5 TV’s investigative unit, but they don’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, we’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.

Kathis House.jpg

18 Comments

  1. My heart goes out to this family. Insurance companies are the root of most evil in my opinion and I have only had to deal with car insurance issues, I can’t imagine dealing with one on a housing situation.

    Wasn’t Farmers Insurance blasted during the aftermath of Katrina and accused of not honoring policies?

    Comment by Teresa P — 8:21 am October 24, 2007 #

  2. I have Farmers for my auto and home and I’m considering them for life also. Makes me question my decision although I’m not sure if there really is a great insurance company out there.

    Comment by westseattleite — 8:54 am October 24, 2007 #

  3. I never have any issues with USAA insurance. If I had Farmers, I’d be dumping them in a heartbeat. This bs is inexcuseable.

    Comment by grr — 9:57 am October 24, 2007 #

  4. I think the best depiction of insurance was in the movie the incredible’s. If they are paying out claims they are losing money, period. I think its good to approach insurance companies with distrust and contempt and build back from there. Farmers has a bad history with stalling claims to wait people out, check out wikipedia, or just ad insurance company and lawsuit to any google search.

    Has anyone had any experience with “American family” they are new to the state.. I looked them up and they run as a mutual, which I guess is simular to a co-op, or an REI like co-op.

    Comment by Vincent — 10:12 am October 24, 2007 #

  5. I just went to Farmer’s main website, clicked “contact us” and sent them an email, including a link to the PI story. With great clarity I let them know their behavior is unacceptable and shameful. Not that they care, but I feel better.

    Comment by dksmith — 10:25 am October 24, 2007 #

  6. It is always a tragedy when you have damage to your home and cannot get the issue resolved. From my experience the problem is in hiring a public adjuster and making the claim confrontational with the insurance company. Public adjusters are like trial lawyers and will do nothing of any great benefit for you other than drag out the length of the settlement to make it seem like they are “working really hard”, when they are not.
    They owe you to rebuild the home. Let them get started and if it doesnt go well, take it up with the contractor.

    Comment by Rick — 12:49 pm October 24, 2007 #

  7. Wow. Very well written summary.

    I will second “grr” in recommending USAA – I have never had a single problem with either my auto or homeowners coverage through USAA in the 20 years I have been with them.

    Comment by SomeGuy — 3:25 pm October 24, 2007 #

  8. I drive past this house almost daily when I bring my son to school and can’t help but feel for the family. I figured it was an insurance problem. I’m glad I don’t have Farmers and if I did I would be switching ASAP.

    This made me think of the other issue re: Farmers ins. where they refused to pay a claim a few years back in a case of an innocent victim of road rage. Farmers said it wasn’t an accident.

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2002569740_danny19.html

    Comment by Bonnie — 4:16 pm October 24, 2007 #

  9. I met Kathi Cronin (the Mom of the house!) about 8 mos ago. She has become such an amazing friend. Unfortunately for Farmers, I have been a customer since I was 16 years old. That was almost 24 years ago! I’ll be signing papers with AAA insurance on Monday the 29th that will not only save me about $700 per year – but will BETTER my insurance coverage offered by Farmers. I’m happy to refer debebryan@aaawin.com – she has heard this story and she UNDERSTANDS. MAKE A CHANGE IF YOU ARE A FARMERS CLIENT! TAKE A STAND!

    Comment by Charell Abram — 7:48 pm October 24, 2007 #

  10. Farmers is notorious for this type of behavior. I recently had a car accident with one of their insureds and it took them over a year to settle it – it was a very minor claim, but that’s just the way they do business. They gave me so much grief over my tiny claim, I can only imagine how they would behave with a large amount of money on the line.

    Based on my experience, and that of others I know of, never buy insurance from anyone with State or Farm in their name.

    This is a prime example of why we need R67 to pass.

    Comment by Elikapeka — 8:29 pm October 24, 2007 #

  11. a few years ago Rep. Eileen Cody was a great great help in expediting some issue (non-insurance) for my sister. She told me she had written to all the West Seattle politicos and Cody was the only one who even responded. Her staff continued to follow up long afterwards too. What a sad story! Such are the fruits of unregulated free market.

    Comment by Dis — 10:19 pm October 24, 2007 #

  12. We had a tree fall on our house and our insurance company, USAA, promptly paid all of our expenses. No hassles and they were pleasant to deal with. Highly recommended.

    Comment by Lisa — 10:44 pm October 24, 2007 #

  13. Darn! USAA limits their coverage to the following:
    * Children of USAA members.
    * Active-duty officers and enlisted personnel.
    * National Guard and Selected Reserve officers and enlisted personnel.
    * Officer candidates in commissioning programs(Academy, ROTC, OCS/OTS).
    * Recently retired or separated military personnel.
    * Former USAA members who had auto or property insurance.

    Best of luck to this family- I can’t imagine how difficult it’s been for them to deal with this.

    Comment by m — 9:50 am October 25, 2007 #

  14. First I had a friend that was insured with USAA and he had a hugh water damage claim and they would not pay, USAA SUCKS.

    Comment by n — 2:17 pm October 25, 2007 #

  15. Last year my house burned to the ground and Farmers paid to rebuild my house and it’s better then ever. These people have a sad story but instead of taking the $100,000 plus Farmers has already gave them and doing some repairs they have sat on it and not done anything.

    Comment by T — 2:22 pm October 25, 2007 #

  16. That’s wonderful Farmers rebuilt your house and its now better than ever. Your lucky they did not low-ball you and/or drag it out. I have to take object to the previous comment “These people have a sad story but instead of taking the $100,000 plus Farmers has already gave them and doing some repairs they have sat on it and not done anything.”… This is clearly a comment from someone unfamiliar with the situation–and the people. I know them. These people want to fix their house. That 100k you point out gets chopped down to near nothing when you deduct the bills for getting rid of the tree, a bunch of demolition, asbestos removal, rent for close to a year… the list goes on. It was not all for the repairs. That’s pretty much the problem. Anyone in their place would be crazy to start repairs without funds and then try and fight the insurance company for repayment.

    Comment by A Neighbor — 4:06 pm October 25, 2007 #

  17. T probably works for Farmers.

    Comment by B — 6:53 pm October 25, 2007 #

  18. sorry to hear that, n. I’ve been a USAA member for 30 years, and have always had exemplary service.

    Comment by grr — 8:24 pm October 25, 2007 #

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