My personal trial by fire


By: Robert E. Meyer

Every now and then, some event in life occurs that changes your entire outlook on things. Such an event merits writing about despite the fact that it deviates from the usual political analysis in this column. The information shared or lessons learned can be beneficial to all who take heart to listen. One of these pivotal moments took place in my life in on February 4th. It also explains why I haven’t been active in this column–busy with other priorities.

Imagine sitting in a Red Cross trailer as your home and all worldly possessions are burning less than 200 yards away. You have just been told by fire department personnel that the only way to extinguish your fire is to call in a backhoe to knock down what still remains standing of your home. It’s the “you got to destroy the village to save it” routine, I suppose. The insurance adjuster offers the consolatory remark that “at least you have full replacement coverage on your property and contents.” Then a week later, while you are still reeling from the loss, the same adjuster calls with regret to inform you that you didn’t, in fact, have full replacement coverage.

I don’t need to imagine the scenario, because I just experienced it. A kick in the teeth when you are already laying on your back side. Trying to maintain my composure, I asked the adjuster, “Since you thought I had full replacement and, I thought I had it, how did this happen?”

A few days later I got the explanation. In 2003 my insurance company sent out a directive to all agents that customers were required to indicate whether they had make improvements to their homes. They were required to respond in order to maintain full replacement coverage known as “Home Guard”. Failure to do so would result in cancellation of that coverage, also known as HO-413, at the next contract renewal. My agency claims to have sent me a letter, then later telephoned me to offer a review. My claim is that I don’t recall ever being contacted, thus, I never knew the coverage had been deleted from my policy. Either way, I have accepted the ultimate responsibility for any failure of communication.

Further inquiry led to the discovery that “notification,” legally means nothing more than that they are able to later produce a copy of the letter they allegedly sent out, thus any evidence of official contact was not required of them. As a result, I was forced to accept a depreciated value for replacement of personal belongings, as well as having no escalation enhancement if a home of equivalent square footage cannot be rebuilt for the insured amount.

A second insurance issue quickly came to light. It was common observation that the fire started in the chimney while wood was being burned in the fireplace. About a year ago, we installed a new fireplace insert and, that became the focus of my insurance company’s investigation. However, since the fire department knocked down both the home’s chimneys for safety concerns, they also disturbed some of the essential evidence of the fire’s origin. This made it necessary to officially categorize the fire as that of an unknown origin. That action made my insurance company very frustrated, since it made it virtually impossible to prove negligence in the installation process. As of this writing, I have been informed that they have abandoned any further action.

As a result of what has happened, I will make a few recommendations, that may also be applied to issues other than fire insurance.

If one contractor undercuts the bids of other competitors, it is fair to question as to what corners are being cut to make the job profitable at that price.

If you hire a professional, such as an insurance agent, make sure they are a “total hands on representitive,” one that provides periodic service and consultation after the sale.

If you are bound by a contractual agreement, such as an insurance policy, make sure it offers the coverage you think you are supposed to have. Meet with your representative as often as necessary to understand the issues and be convinced in your own mind.

Pay careful attention to any “updates” in a contractual agreement, as the devil is lurking in the details.

In this experience I discovered both the generosity of individuals I never knew before, as well as grim reality and aftermath of a “total loss.” As of this writing, I have only partially completed the struggle toward getting my life back. When people ask if things are returning to normal, I tell them, no, not yet. I have a feeling that what becomes “normal” is never going to be same for me again.

Hopefully, I can get back to a regular writing again, but their are many huddles left to climb. I ask for your prayers and patience in the mean time.

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