DECATUR, Ga. — What seemed like a routine insurance claim for a Decatur townhome HOA has turned into a fight that has gone on for more than a year.
Investigative reporter Justin Gray discovered the tactic insurance companies are using more and more to reject claims, even when the insurance company’s own photos clearly show damage.
“It’s really cut and clear that there was some damage here, and I don’t know why the company is trying to skirt around it,” homeowner Courtenay Albaugh said.
The company Courtenay Albaugh is talking about is Auto-Owners Insurance.
Her HOA at the North Village Townhomes in Decatur filed a loss-claim after finding hail damage all over their roofs. That was back in October 2019.
At first, everything seemed to follow the typical process.
“As soon as their representative got on top of the roof, he called down to our guy ‘Oh, look at this, there’s hail damage all over the place, hold the ladder, I’ll take some pictures, ‘”roof contractor Adam Hoyt said.
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But Auto-Owners Insurance, who declined comment for this story, did something public adjusters like Chad Conley say they’re seeing more and more: they ordered a second inspection of the roofs, this time by a state-certified engineer.
In his report, the engineer concluded the shingles were “not bruised or punctured by hailstone impacts”.
“The engineer did state, however, that the roofs were peppered with what he called, quote, circular surface anomalies. And oddly enough, occurring more frequently on the south and southwest slopes, which is the direction of the storms,” Chad Conley told Justin Gray.
“That sounds like hail,” Gray replied.
“It sounds exactly like hail,” Conley said.
But Conley did some of his own investigative work. Using simple image processing software on the engineers’ photos, Conley was able to reveal the smooth metal vents were actually riddled with dents, a hallmark of hail damage.
“And I can tell you emphatically, it was either knowingly covered up, or it was pure incompetence. But these homeowners shouldn’t experience a $500,000 loss from incompetence,” Conley said.
“It’s so frustrating,” Courtenay Albaugh said. “We follow through with all of our premium payments. We’ve been good policy owners, so we’re just not really sure why they’re doing this.”
Gray spoke with insurance industry expert Doug Heller with the Consumer Federation of America.
“The engineering firms compete for the insurance company’s business, and win by giving them the results they like, because remember, paying the engineering firm is a lot cheaper than fixing our roofs, or our homes or whatever other damage there is,” Heller said.
Left with plenty of damaged roofs and no other options, the community called police to file a vandalism report. Auto-Owners has not made a determination on that claim.
“At the end of the day, if a licensed expert is hired to render an opinion on something, we should be able to trust that it’s correct. And sadly, my experience has shown that that’s not always the case,” Conley said
Doug Heller also says insurance companies benefit financially from dragging out a claims process. He says a lot of their revenue comes from investing the money policyholders pay in premiums. The longer they hold on to that money before making a pay-out, the more it multiplies. Heller says over a year’s time, similar to how long the North Village Townhomes have been waiting, Auto-Owners can rake in tens of thousands of dollars.