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|INSURER FILES SUIT AGAINST FLOODED HOFFMAN FAMILY
By Carri Karuhn.
Published: Friday, April 11, 1997
Iris Gonzalez considers the court summons delivered to her recently as insult on top of injury.
After suffering through a winter of misery when her Hoffman Estates home was flooded, forcing her family to move temporarily, she discovered that her insurance company wouldn't cover losses from the damage.
Now, the company, Illinois Farmers Insurance, has filed a lawsuit asking a Cook County judge to support its position by ruling that the Gonzalezes' policy doesn't cover any of the damage to the house on Maricopa Lane.
"They want to get out of it completely," said Gonzalez, 51, a data entry clerk. "Nobody should have to go through what we went through. I thought at least they'd say, `We'd do this.' But nothing."
For almost a year, the Gonzalez family had been plagued with water problems. Water surged into their house and settled in the ductwork, where evaporating moisture caused the walls to warp and wallpaper to peel. Mildew sealed the windows shut.
The water also damaged the furnace, forcing the family to move out when three space heaters and a fireplace failed to provide enough warmth.
The family tried to get the problem fixed, but Farmers refused to pay, saying that an inspection had revealed that the damage had been caused by ground water. The insurance company said the policy didn't cover this type of flood damage.
Independent plumbers who also inspected the house disputed the insurance company's contention, saying broken pipes were to blame. The family's problems worsened when freezing temperatures in the house caused a pipe to burst, flooding the house again.
The Gonzalezes' attorney, David Neff, maintains that the family suffered stress-related health problems from the company's "wrongful" refusal to pay the damages. Neff plans to file a response to the suit Friday.
Gonzalez's husband, Randy, suffered bouts of depression, Neff says. Iris Gonzalez's asthma was affected by the mildew, he says.
Neff sent a letter to Farmers seeking a $500,000 settlement. The company responded with the lawsuit.
The company now says that the damage was caused by ground water as well as deteriorated pipes, both of which are not covered, according to the suit. Farmers also disputes whether the initial flooding caused as much damage as the Gonzalezes contend.
Lawyers for Farmers could not be reached for comment. But for months, the company has defended its decisions in the Gonzalezes' case.
Robert Jaske, a branch claims manager for the insurance company, said in a recent letter to Neff that Farmers has "handled this matter in a proper and professional manner."
"Our decision to deny the Gonzalezes' claim was proper and was based on the information in hand as well as the policy of insurance issued to the Gonzalezes," Jaske wrote.
Neff, however, argues that the policy can be interpreted several ways. He says it will be up to a jury to decide whose interpretation is correct.
In the meantime, a group of union plumbers and carpenters recently banded together with local businesses to repair the broken pipes and dry out the house.
Also, a group of volunteers called Christmas in April is planning to make other repairs to the home, such as painting, laying carpet and repairing cabinets and floors.
Though Iris Gonzalez is grateful for all that is being done by the volunteers, she said she will never forget the ordeal that her family has endured.
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