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Family's Recovery From Tornado Finally Begins When Insurance Settled in Full
As a massive tornado twisted its way across central Oklahoma on May 24, 2011, Vic Sanders instinctively told his wife and adult daughter by phone to leave the family home in Piedmont and seek shelter elsewhere before the storm could strike.
“Normally I’d say to stay indoors and take cover,” Sanders would later confess. “But sometimes you have to go with your gut.”
In this case, Sanders’ gut was right. The family returned to find the home severely damaged and near collapse.
“The walls were away from the foundation of the house,” Sanders said. “The brick at one end was leaning out at a 60-degree angle, about to fall. The house was just blown out. Everything was leaning.”
An insurance claim was filed, but to Sanders’ surprise the home was not considered a total loss. Repairs were recommended, rather than tearing down the house and rebuilding. For example, Sanders said the adjuster authorized paying to replace upper cabinets in the kitchen, but not lower cabinets. The adjuster suggested collecting bricks from the rubble and “cleaning them up to reuse.”
The insurer “wanted to pay for this end of the house and that end of the house, but try to save the middle,” Sanders said, still incredulous at the suggestion.
Sanders, whose livelihood is earned in light construction and remodeling, had an understanding of how serious the damage to the home really was. For nearly two months he pleaded with the company for a better settlement, one that would let the family start over from scratch. He made no headway, but refused to give up, especially when he returned to the hotel room where the family was staying while their insurance claim remained unresolved and found his wife in tears.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever have our house back,” she confided.
Sanders’ protective instincts kicked in again. He quietly vowed to do “whatever it took to give my wife a home.”
So when Vic Sanders was told by a friend a few days later that Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak was speaking at that moment to a breakfast gathering in Piedmont, he interrupted his work at a job site in Oklahoma City and drove back to meet the state’s chief insurance official. Sanders again found himself following his instincts.
“I looked at Mr. Doak and asked, ‘Are you somebody that can help me with an insurance problem or are you just somebody collecting a paycheck?’ My friend couldn’t believe I approached him that way, but I didn’t have time to waste with people who couldn’t help,” Sanders said. “Mr. Doak gave me 10 to 15 minutes of his valuable time and then said, ‘Let me see how I can assist you.’”
Sanders said the commissioner seemed sincere in his desire to help. It didn’t take long for him to find out. That same day, Deputy Commissioner Denise Engle called Sanders and asked to meet him at the damaged Piedmont home for a tour. Calls were made by the Insurance Department to Sanders’ homeowners policy carrier.
“Within a matter of 24 hours,” Sanders said, the insurer offered to reappraise the property damage. “Within 72 hours,” he continued, a settlement in full was offered on the homeowners policy, permitting the Sanders family to tear down the stricken home and build a brand new residence at the same address on Northridge Lane.
The settlement was a welcome change in fortunes for Mr. Sanders and his wife, who were still coping with the death of an adult son only a couple of months prior when the tornado left their house a shambles. The family hopes to be in their new home by Christmas.
“If it had not been for the intervention of the state insurance commissioner and the Oklahoma Insurance Department, we probably still would be fighting for a settlement,” Sanders said. Sanders said he learned a couple of other valuable lessons during this process. First, the family had made a number of improvements to their land over their many years of residence in Piedmont. Despite receiving a full settlement on the home, the Sanders family suffered an estimated $74,000 in out-of-pocket losses for barns, other outbuildings and fences which had been added to the property, but not added to the insurance policy. “I’ve already told my agent that from now on, every year I want to sit down and review our homeowners insurance policy to be sure it’s up to date,” Sanders said.
And, finally, Sanders said his family sought cover away from their home on May 24 in part because there was no storm shelter on their property.
“We’re building a storm shelter this time,” he said.