Thursday, April 20, 2006


Okay, so the house is burnt. Before that, it was drowned. But it ain't over yet.

Several bloggers complimented me on my calm, level-headed demeanor. I mean, what the hell else can I do? If crying and screaming could make it all better, I'd be bawling like a Saints fan after losing yet another game in the last two minutes. But as the great philosophers Page and Plant tell us, "Cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good."

As the news of our Tuesday morning fire spread, several people (bloggers, co-workers, friends and family apparently all think alike) were quick to point out that we might be able to make a new claim on our homeowners insurance. Some suggested this fire could turn out to be a good thing!

Well, that remains to be seen. Yes, our insurance is still in place, but I don't know all the details about what may or may not be covered, or even by how much.

It's one of the lessons thoroughly driven home in post-Katrina New Orleans and all along the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast: you think you know what insurance you have, but you don't really know until you file a claim. I could probably give a seminar on the topic, "The Large Print Giveth, but the Small Print Taketh Away." Sometimes these little details amounted to a few dollars, sometimes thousands. Sometimes the minutia of insurance works to your favor--yes, it happens--but most often not.

My Darling Wife and I discussed this Tuesday afternoon. I thought it would be strange to put in a claim for damage to an already ruined house that we plan to knock down anyway. She correctly pointed out that the structure still has value, and that until we actually carry out the demolition it retains that value. I finally just said, "Call it in and see what they say."

On Wednesday, an insurance representative called me to get our claim moving. He asked me for some ordinary facts and information, and then he asked if he could record a statement. Sure, why not?

The taped interview began with a recap of the same ordinary facts and information, but then he asked me, "What time did you leave your house on Monday morning?"

I reminded him that the fire was on Tuesday morning.

"Yes, I know, but I'm asking about Monday."

Uh oh. With a tinge of dread I began to realize where this was going. Goosebumps rolled over my body like a cold tide. Successive questions confirmed my fear.

"Did you go directly to work, or did you make any stops along the way? Do you work in an office? Did you remain at work all day? What time did you leave work on Monday? Did you go directly home? Did you go anywhere Monday evening? What time did you leave your house on Tuesday? Did you make any stops on Tuesday morning, or did you go directly to work?"

Yes, it turns out that I am a SUSPECT.

Think about that for a minute. We've all heard stories about people who torch their own failing businesses or financially cumbersome houses just to collect the insurance. It's just so logical that when someone is hurting for money and there is a suspicious fire, the owner is the most natural SUSPECT.

Rationally, I understand.

Emotionally, I am furious. I am embarrassed and I feel abused. Suddenly, my trustworthiness is called into question. Suddenly, my honor must be investigated.

I know this is just routine. I know it's not personal. I know that it will amount to nothing because I had nothing to do with the fire.

But to be asked, point blank, by my own insurance company, "Did you go directly home?" is indescribably rude.

I had to remind myself of the foster children we had about ten years ago. We had two little girls, sisters, staying with us, and one afternoon, the youngest complained about her elbow hurting. After trying everything we could, we finally had to take her to the emergency room to get it looked at. The diagnosis was nursemaid elbow, a common injury that was easily treated.

But then we had to fill out a report for the Department of Social Services. The social worker conducted a detailed interview to determine what happened, and to see if we were being abusive. I remember being a bit insulted at the time, but it amounted to nothing since both girls admitted they had been rough-housing at the time of the injury. And the social worker was just doing his job. No harm, no foul, right?

Still, it is strange and unpleasant to think that I am now a SUSPECT.


Laurie said...

Two words...holy crap.

Anonymous said...

I have to think that the insurance industry is evil manifested among us. Period. I know that, as an industry, they employ a tactic of rejecting claims just because they know that some will stop trying. It is one of the most profitable industries in existence (along with those poor pharmaceutical companies that must charge so much for the medicine in the US to cover their R&D). If they make you feel bad enough, you might just withdraw your claim. Shame. It's a revenue stream.

Apologies if I have offended any insurance (or pharmaceutical) folks among us. :)

Anonymous said...

This is the very definition of adding "insult to injury."

Anonymous said...

The same "suspect" thing happened to us earlier this year when our stolen car was recovered wrecked. The cops backed down quickly when I did some po-lice name dropping and when a witness told them about the creeps fleeing the car.

Then, the insurance company gave us a hard time because the car had an immobilizer alarm. The thieves, however, had a key that fit the lock. In the end, they paid BUT the painfully honest Dr. A did feel a bit slimed by the process. Life stinks sometimes...

Anonymous said...

Good grief--does it ever end?

I agree with the poster above who suggests they hope you will drop the claim--it is part of their strategy-

and I can understand how you are probably running out of patience--I once let a car accident claim go because I felt so bad and just couldn't stand to talk about it any more--and know how they can make you feel you are the guilty one--I just wanted it to be over--but you will need every resource you can get to rebuild.

Anonymous said...

Make the bastards pay. Follow this through to the end, and get an attorney if you have to. Bastards!!!

Also, see if the demolition guy will give you a price break...

Mr. Clio said...

OJ! OJ did it!

Anonymous said...

I think you should name the company that did this. It's an insane bullying tactic and they should be called out on it. GRRRRRRRRR.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but all I can think of is Warren Zevon's I was in the house when the house burned down.

Tim said...

Everybody, Thanks for the kind support. It really gets weirder every day. The plain truth is all they can do is investigate me and my Darling Wife. They told me they think it was arson and they have no other suspects.

We can't blame it on faulty utilities because they've all been disconnected. We can't blame it on the weather. We couldn't even come up with a reason why anyone would do this, and even if we did have seriously pissed enemies, it would be stupid for them to torch a house that we openly planned to demolish anyway. And since there are literally thousands of similarly damaged houses, why ours? Lots of questions, but only two people to ask.

Like I said: rationally, I understand why we're being scrutinized, but I hate it. I hate it I hate it I hate it.

My biggest fear is that the case will remain unsolved, and this cloud of doubt will hang over us for years to come and will affect our ability to get insurance and the price we will have to pay for it.

They keep telling me that this is all just "routine." Let's hope so. Let's hope I'm just being too emotional about it.

I don't want to name the company because I've been insured with the same company--car, homeowners, flood, rental--for more than 20 years. They have always given good to excellent service. I will not pass judgement on them until the entire matter is resolved. If I expect them to treat me fairly, I must do the same to them.