Harry and Marilyn Wilkinson celebrated their return home after being displaced by an electrical fire for a year. (MONA MOORE | Daily News)
Harry and Marilyn Wilkinson celebrated their return home after being displaced by an electrical fire for a year. (MONA MOORE | Daily News)

Archived Story

Homeowners prevail after claim challenged

Published 9:36pm Monday, May 6, 2013

A hurricane and a fire couldn’t keep Harry and Marilyn Wilkinson down, but the combination led to an insurance nightmare for the Washington couple.
When Hurricane Irene blew away their barn, their homeowner’s insurance covered the damage without incident.
When an electrical fire claimed their home five months later, it was a different story.
“Our insurance company gave us a hard time,” Marilyn said. “They wanted to find every little loophole. They denied our claim, sent back four years of premiums and even called us down to a grand jury room and questioned my husband for four hours.”
The Wilkinson’s hired an attorney and managed to get the claim paid. They moved in to a repaired and fully furnished home earlier this year.
Harlan Janes, a counselor at East Carolina SCORE, had advice for renters and homeowners shopping for insurance.
“First, you need to know who you’re doing business with,” he said. “There are two parts. The insurance agents may just be the sales people. The underwriters are the ones ultimately responsible for paying the claim.”
Janes said to ask the agent who the underwriter is. Larger, well-known insurance agencies that underwrite their own policies will sometimes also deal with outside underwriters.
Ask insurance agents for their A.M. Best rating. The A.M. Best company rates insurance companies and that rating will indicate how well the underwriting company is run.
Janes also suggested looking at the underwriter’s Standard and Poor’s and Moody ratings, which will show that the company’s finances are strong and the company is in good shape.
“The first thing I would want to know is who am I dealing with,” Janes said.
Beth Baynor, an agent at Anchor Insurance Washington, recommended homeowners review their policy carefully.
“Know exactly what you have and what you’re paying for,” she said.
To be sure the policy will cover expenses, Baynor said to be sure the policy covers what it would cost to build the home today, not its cash value.
She recommended renters get insurance, which will cover the contents of the rental.
“A lot of people don’t think to get renters insurance,” she said.
Janes said insurance policies also cover personal liability. If someone trips on a renter’s or homeowner’s rug, the insurance can cover it. In the case of renters, those who have accumulated wealth or a lot of personal property should invest in the coverage.
The Wilkinson’s celebrated their return to their Slatestone Road home with a cookout Saturday. They invited everyone who helped them after the fire.
“We just wanted to say, ‘thank you’ to them,” Marilyn said. “The community came together to lift us up and stay strong.”
Harry had a bit of advice for homeowners, too.
“You better have Jesus on your side,” he said. “And a good attorney, too.”

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