Minn. Homeowners Combat Insurance Companies over Storm Damage Claims

Updated: 06/18/2014 10:20 PM
Created: 06/18/2014 8:11 PM
By: Stephen Tellier

When bad weather hits, insurance may save the day. But some homeowners are finding out the hard way that they weren't covered like they hoped. And soon, the Minnesota Supreme Court could weigh in on exactly how much money you're entitled to when your home gets hit with hail or high winds.

Many homeowners are still dealing with claims from last year's severe weather season, and many are upset about one particular argument coming from the insurance companies.

"They don't give a damn," said Harry Wirth, whose Minnetonka home was hit with hail last July. "It damaged the roof to the point where we started to have leaks."

He has pretty much had it.

"You have to ask yourself, 'Why do I even have insurance?'" Wirth said.

Nearly one year later, the tarps are still up on his roof.

Wirth said a contractor quoted him $32,000 to repair the entire roof. But his insurance company, American Family Insurance, offered $8,000, telling him it would only repair the shingles that were actually damaged.

"They feel that it can be repaired and new shingles can be blended into old, which is entirely wrong," Wirth said. "I don't think you see any house with one type of shingles on one part, and a different on another. That's not acceptable in the United States of America."

Wirth is certainly not alone, and a similar case is currently before the Minnesota Supreme Court.

In that case, Cedar Bluff Townhome Condominium Association, Inc. vs. American Family Mutual Insurance Company, a condo association is fighting American Family, in the wake of a storm in 2010. The insurer offered to pay to replace only damaged siding on 20 buildings, even though the new siding wouldn't perfectly match the old siding -- replacing all of it would double the costs of the claim.

Wirth said, so be it.

"We're going to go and have appraisals on the house, and we're going to court. Luckily, we have the resources to do that. But a lot of people wouldn't do that. They'd just take the beating," Wirth said.

And he has a message for all homeowners.

"You better double check your insurance real hard before you make your next premium payment," Wirth said.

With respect to Wirth's claim, American Family Insurance tells FIVE EYEWITNESS NEWS, "We have had ongoing communication with the customers beginning with our initial contact regarding what their homeowner policy covers, and are, in turn, paying for those damages that occurred to their home from the storm. We have continued to meet and communicate with them to address these and other concerns and are still working with them to find a resolution to their claim."

American Family also provided the following statement: 

"... for all our customers, our objective is - and we are always working to - resolve claims, pay what we owe and treat our customers fairly and respectfully. That means paying for damage that is covered by the customer's insurance policy. We are committed to doing what's right, which means evaluating each claim on its own individual merits, treating our customers with respect and offering a clear explanation of our decisions. We advise our customers to speak with their agents about their policies so they know exactly what is covered, ensure they have the right amount of coverage, and to determine if they need or want additional coverages. Then they can choose the policy that is right for them."

This is not an issue unique to American Family Insurance. The Insurance Federation of Minnesota said most insurance companies have changed their policy language to state they will only pay for damaged material, not cosmetic damage.

Insurers also point out that some homeowners "pray for hail," hoping insurance will pay for a new roof when they should have paid for one themselves years ago. They say if insurers are forced to pay for entirely new roofs or siding in such situations, premiums would likely rise for everyone else.

Minneapolis/St. Paul

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