January 2011 Archives

North Carolina House Fire Victims Fight Insurance Bad Faith Claims

January 15, 2011

My client was asleep is bed with his wife, his two year old child just in the next room. The phone rang about 3 a.m. His wife's house which she inherited from her father was on fire an a neighboring town 30 minutes away. The house in North Carolina had recently been vacated by a renter. Much of the house was still furnished with the wife's family furniture, priceless photos and family keepsakes.

The insurance company was notified. A public adjuster hired by my clients surveyed the damage and helped my clients present their claim. The police investigated. No arson was found; yet, Farm Bureau Insurance Company denied the claim, maintaining that my clients (respectable professional people without records of wrongdoing) had committed arson. Too many insurance companies are currently denying legitimate house fire cases by using unfair and deceptive claims practices.

My clients had no financial difficulties or other reason to burn the house. They had been having trouble with the propane gas central HVAC and the licensed gas company had worked on it. The system seemed to be using more gas than would be expected given the size of the house, the weather, and the type of system.

Our gas expert was sure the house burned due to escaping propane. The copper gas pipe was passing from the propane tank outside through the brick masonry walls. Science has learned that the chemical in the mortar used in brick masonry will corrode copper and cause pin holes which allow gas to escape. There was a lighted pilot light in the gas log fireplace in the house which could easily have ignited the gas.

Farm Bureau got an expert and claimed the fire was set because residue of accelerant was found in the house.

At mediation we showed slides of family Christmas pictures which were taken in front of the fire place in the house. On the mantle behind the group picture one could clearly see scented oil lamps on either end of the mantle piece. Where did the insurance company's expert find accelerant? Right where the oil lamps full of oil would have fallen off the fireplace mantle as the fire burnt up the mantle piece.

The insurance adjusters claimed that they denied the claim because they had gotten some anonymous phone calls about the fire. Later a senior manager for Farm Bureau admitted that there were no such phone calls.

Ultimately we recovered the entire replacement value of the house and payment for some contents. If we had not aggressively pursued the claim, the insurance company would have paid nothing.

To read about how insurance companies avoid paying claims see www.farmbureaulies.com

North Carolina Lowball Insurance Offers in Accident Injury Claims

January 12, 2011

Lumberton NC Insurance Bad Faith Attorney Woodberry (Woody) Bowen chuckled at the professionally lettered sign placed conspicuously in the front yard of a house on the way to Cross Creek Mall in Fayetteville, NC. The sign said:

Nationwide is not on your side.
If there's a claim then you're to blame.

As a veteran trial attorney for North Carolina insurance claims, Bowen knew that it was not just Nationwide about which this could be said.

Time was when insurance companies took seriously and ethically their duty to pay just and legitimate claims within a reasonable time. No longer for most insurers.

But some are worse than others. An independent organization published in 2008 an article entitled The Ten Worst Insurance Companies in America in which bad faith practices of major insurance companies are catalogued. And take a moment to check out the story of a midwest school teacher who took on one of the nation's largest insurance companies when she was denied just compensation from a house fire. Check out www.farmbureaulies.com.

The insurance industry commissioned the McKinsey Report in 2005 in order to find out how to make more money. The report concluded that since companies could squeeze little or no more work out of their adjusters and middle management employees and since the companies insisted on paying some of their senior management salaries in multi-millions, the only effective way to make more money was to deny more claims.

Following on after that conclusion, the McKenzie Report presented over 10,000 Power Point slides instructing the staffs of insurance companies how to delay, avoid and deny claims. The strategy involves delaying or obstructing the claim until the claimant simply gives up and takes a low ball offer rather than fight the insurance company.

Often the first line of insurance defense of a case is to get a claimant to give a recorded statement with the adjuster in which the adjuster uses special training to attempt to get the claimant to admit that he or she was in some way at fault when claimant was not.

Increasingly with harder economic times, insurance companies are succeeding in the unlawful and deceptive practice of lowballing claims. An unexpected emergency expense will often cause a claimant to accept an unfairly low offer just to be able to pay a bill.

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