May 19, 2009 in City

Repairs waiting on insurer

Company says it’s working on claim from building’s frustrated owner
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Photos by Dan Pelle photo

Rich Clemson, owner of the former Spears Home Furnishings at 1300 N. Argonne Road in Spokane Valley, says he’s waiting for Hartford Financial Services Group to proceed with his claim after the building’s roof collapsed under last winter’s heavy snow.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Even as the weather warms and summer beckons, Rich Clemson remains mired in last winter’s problems.

His ire is directed at the Hartford Financial Services Group, one of the country’s largest property insurers. He says it has failed to pay up 4 1/2 months after the roof on his large commercial building, the former Spears furniture store at 1321 N. Mullan Road, collapsed under the weight of December’s epic snowfall.

“They have been obstructionist by their inaction, delays and empty promises,” Clemson said.

He has become so frustrated with his insurer that he has hung a banner at the property warning “The Hartford is NOT your friend. Beware!” with the company’s signature stag circled in red with a line crossed over it.

The insurer insists it is working on the claim and notes that a lot of money already has been paid out on it.

“We are working very closely with our policyholder, a party other than Mr. Clemson, to resolve this complex claim,” said Thomas Hambrick, a spokesman for the Hartford. Clemson, however, said he is a policyholder and has a legitimate claim.

The building housed the Capel Rug Gallery, which is owned by Bruce McEachran.

Hambrick said the Hartford has paid a substantial amount of money “representing a significant percentage of the total claim.”

He declined to say how much has been paid and whether it was to the Capel Rug Gallery or to Clemson.

“I can’t answer that. I will say we are committed to working to achieve a fair and accurate resolution to this matter.”

The trouble began in December, when storm after storm pounded Spokane. As the snow piled up, roofs began to fall down.

The roof on Clemson’s flat-topped building caved in on New Year’s Eve. About half the 35,000-square-foot roof collapsed, triggering a flood from ruptured pipes that ruined furniture and carpets.

“By the time people realized we might have problems with roofs it was too late,” Clemson said. “I couldn’t get anyone hired in time.”

The structural failure was among dozens across the Inland Northwest.

Winter storms are big problems for insurers. Each year about $1 billion in insured losses are caused by storms, making them the third-largest cause of catastrophic losses, according to figures from the Insurance Information Institute.

The greatest losses are caused by hurricanes, followed by tornadoes.

Clemson, who owned Pasta USA for about 17 years, said he has to continue paying the building mortgage, taxes and other costs while awaiting a claims resolution. He said the problems have drained more that $80,000 from his personal savings.

Stepping over downed ceiling tiles, insulation and lumber, he said construction crews should be at work at the site. Instead the building remains an eyesore along the busy Argonne-Mullan couplet.

Clemson is not alone in his frustration with insurers. Records show six complaints against insurers have been filed with the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

Clemson said he hasn’t filed a complaint. Yet.

“I still remain hopeful that maybe we can get this worked out,” he said. “I’m just a little guy who thought my insurer would jump right on this thing. But they haven’t even determined if the building is even salvageable.”

He thinks other businesspeople and homeowners should revisit the scope of their policies – before the next winter storm. “It’s an eye-opener.”

John Stucke can be reached at (509) 459-5419 or johnst@spokesman.com.


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