Heavy wait: Although insured, woman lacks help in removing fallen tree from house
by Brooke Carbo
Star staff writer
Jun 30, 2011 | 3305 views |  0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Christine Patton looks at a hole left in the ceiling of her Front Street home in Anniston after a tree crashed into her roof during a storm Friday. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
Christine Patton looks at a hole left in the ceiling of her Front Street home in Anniston after a tree crashed into her roof during a storm Friday. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
After hearing a crash too loud to be thunder during Friday’s late-afternoon storms, Christine Patton rushed to the stairs of the two-story house on Front Street where she has lived for more than 40 years to find rain pouring inside from a hole in her roof. A tree had broken off, part of the trunk crashing through her roof and the massive branches toppling over the house and into the neighboring yard.

“I heard all that noise and jumped up,” the 80-year-old recalled. “The dust was so thick I thought the house was on fire.”

As of Wednesday, the large pecan tree that Patton said had been growing next to the house as long as she’s lived there was still embedded in her roof. Patton, who is still residing in the home, said she called her homeowners insurance company, Mutual Savings Fire Insurance Company, Friday and was told to call back Monday. Her claim was filed Monday but when an adjuster did not show up, Patton said she spent three days trying unsuccessfully to contact a manager at the company’s Talladega office.

“They wouldn’t want that in their house,” she said. “I don’t know why they’re going so slow.”

Demetrius Scott, Patton’s insurance agent, said he personally filed Patton’s claim on Monday and that an adjuster should have been to the residence Tuesday or Wednesday.

A woman who answered the phone at Mutual Savings in Talladega on Wednesday said the managers were in a meeting but she did not know why Patton was not able to reach one on Monday or Tuesday.

Patton said she cleaned up most of the debris that fell into her kitchen on the first floor so she would be able to cook, but she wanted to leave the extensive structural damage and water damage for the adjuster to see.

“The rain was just pouring on the floor,” she said. “I started getting blankets, papers, anything I could put there to try to get the water off the floor.”

Renee Carter, state director of the Alabama Insurance Information Service, said that, in the insurance industry, homes that are ‘uninhabitable’ are normally the first to be addressed.

“The average wait time should be as fast as they can get someone in the car and on their way,” she said.

As to what is considered “uninhabitable,” Carter answered, “I would have to get you a legal definition but it has to be safe from the elements and from a health standpoint. It can’t be a danger to reside on the premises.”

According to Ragan Ingram, chief of staff of the Alabama Department of Insurance, response times of adjusters depend on the size of the insurer, immediate access to adjusters and the number of people affected by the event.

Patton said she was told by a FEMA representative and a police officer who filed a report on the damage that it was not safe for her to stay in the residence, but she is afraid if she leaves it will be robbed or used as a drug house.

Debbie Battles, director of operations and programs at Middle Alabama Area Agency on Aging, said this is common for seniors living alone.

“They’re afraid if they leave their home they won’t be able to come back,” she explained. “Overcoming that fear is next to impossible.”

Battles also said it can be difficult for them to maneuver through the many forms and regulations that accompany insurance claims.

“They like to be independent,” she said. “They don’t like to ask for help.”

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