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Insurance Adjusters Busy Settling Claims

Tue., Nov. 26, 1996, midnight

Tamara Marshall stepped out of a van the color of dirty snow on Monday, shook hands with John Roberts and walked into his back yard to inspect the damage.

In the far corner of his lot on Rowan Avenue in northeast Spokane, an ice-laden maple limb had fallen on the wire to his home. Mast and meter for electric service, cable box and phone line were pulled to the ground.

Most of the gutter and about half the soffit and fascia were ripped away.

Marshall, a State Farm Insurance adjuster, tramped through the snow snapping Polaroids. She measured the length of destroyed gutter.

All over Spokane, dozens of insurance workers like her are fanning out to assess ice storm damage, write checks, and do what they can to restore normalcy to lives disrupted by endless hours of cold and darkness.

Roberts was relatively lucky.

Remarkably, the electricity continued to flow after the meter was knocked flat, but his home did go dark when the rest of the neighborhood lost power. The lights went back on Saturday.

Marshall had some good news for Roberts. His policy, unlike some, covers the cost of upgrades that must be made in order to bring his home up to code.

The bad news: The policy won’t pay to trim Roberts’ apple tree, which is draped over the service line.

Marshall retreats to the van and starts punching numbers into her calculator. After allowing for his deductible, she hands over a check for $464.

They shake hands. Roberts goes back to shoveling his walk. Marshall heads back to the office, where she will work until 7 p.m. calling clients and scheduling appointments for today.

“It’s the same thing over and over again,” she says.

Many inquiring about a claim are disappointed when they learn that falling trees and branches, unless they hit something, are the homeowner’s financial responsibility.

And for most policyholders, there won’t be any help with the cost of hotel rooms where some sought refuge from widespread power outages. A home must become uninhabitable due to an insured loss like a branch tearing through the roof before coverage kicks in.

Safeco adjuster Ben Berrichoa was on his third call of the day - a kitchen fire - by early Monday afternoon. Most of the claims he’s handled from last Tuesday’s storm have been minor, unlike the big Firestorm 1991 losses.

As much as physical damage, Berrichoa says he is seeing a lot of fatigue among homeowners without power.

Berrichoa says his own experience with the blackout, although less than a day long, gives him a deeper sense of empathy with clients.

“It’s one thing to handle it, it’s another thing to experience it,” he said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

Tags: Ice Storm

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