In Which Farmers Continues to be Heartless

After my previous blog entry about the cruelty of Farmers Insurance caught the eye of someone at Farmers (not really sure what her position was, but probably something in PR), I got a phone call saying my adjuster would be calling to schedule a meeting that day, instead of calling after he got back from vacation. And, like Charlie Brown seeing Lucy holding a football, I felt hopeful. The people who care about me (and thank you all so very, very, very much) had kicked up enough of a storm for me to be worthy of action. I thought maybe Farmers would do the right thing and make a decent settlement offer. After all, there's just no denying that the fire took just about every single thing I owned, and I had been paying for a policy to cover exactly that for almost 8 years.

He did indeed call, and we scheduled a meeting for the following afternoon (Friday). When the adjuster (and his reinforcement--a woman whose job title or description I was never given, just that she had "a lot of experience"), I gave him a copy of this letter (which I have also sent to everyone whose email address I could find online who might be vaguely related to the claims process):

Dear Farmers Insurance,

I am writing to ask your company for a courtesy in connection with the Contents portion of our insurance claim.

As you know, my home, family pets, cars, and a lifetime of memories and possessions were destroyed in a fire on January 11th, 2017. I am cooperating fully with your company and have provided all the information you’ve asked for so far.

Almost every single item that was in my home – from the smallest preemie-sized onesie my babies wore home from the hospital to the largest Turkish carpet--is gone. I lived in my home for almost 8 years before it was lost. As you know, I had three children, so their possessions were in the home and were destroyed as well. You are aware that my 4-year-old son, Atticus, died suddenly of an illness 6 days before the fire. All of his belongings—his baby footprints, the photo albums and baby book, his toys, his clothing, every physical memory—were lost. His brothers, Damien and Everett, watched the fire consume their home which contained everything “Santa” had brought just two weeks previously. They lost their own clothes (Everett did not even have any shoes, as I carried him barefoot from the house into the snow without even stopping to grab my purse), baby books, artwork, beds, bikes, and their remaining sense of security. They, and I, watched everything we had go up in flames. The experience we are going through is emotionally and financially devastating.

My insurance policy with you covers the value on the contents of my home.  I realize Farmers has loss documentation procedures that are designed to deter fraud. I understand you generally require claimants to submit a detailed inventory and valuation of each individual item that was damaged or destroyed, and then to produce receipts as each item is re-purchased before being reimbursed. In light of my circumstances, I am asking you to waive those requirements.

The fire that took our home was sudden and accidental, coming the very week I had lost my firstborn child. Everything you insured, with the exception of some clothing and jewelry, is now gone and needs to be replaced. I am owed the full amount of my Contents insurance limits, which, as I can prove, does not fully cover what I had.

As you are aware, I have, with difficulty and suffering, assembled two lengthy lists itemizing and valuing each individual belonging. One of those lists you have chosen to ignore completely. The other was at least acknowledged, but the work I put into it was largely dismissed. While you accepted some of my valuations and produced somewhat fair approximations on others, many items you simply ignored, pricing them as the average cost of a book, for example, despite my providing you with the title, author, edition number, and price. Many items you simply deleted from the lists, such as the binned containers of hand-me-down clothing from Damien to Everett, the business inventory kept in my garage, and almost all of our foodstuffs.

Writing and pricing those lists was extremely time-consuming. (As you should acknowledge, since it took Farmers several months after receiving the lists to respond with a list of your own.) It was also extremely emotionally painful. To you, a bottle of avocado oil might mean nothing, but to me it is packed with all the memories of preparing the special diet I would feed Atticus through his feeding tube. Mentioning kitty litter evokes the deaths of my two cats, one whom I’d had since 2003. (I got her when I served in Cameroon, Africa, as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and lost her to the flames, along with all of my photographs, letters, journals, and authentic African jewelry, wooden, beaded, and fabric artifacts.) It is not your fault that I lost all of these things, and that I must forever carry this grief. But it is not mine, either. Asking me to face these memories time and again is simply cruel.

Please settle my contents claim in full without delay. The time and struggle of recalling all the thousands of items we lost is challenging enough, but the emotions I experience every time I think of a treasured item (or how Atticus used to sit on that rug, or open and shut the freezer door) is acutely painful and unnecessary.

Surveys of previous disaster survivors confirm that many insurers have waived this itemization requirement in the past. I am asking for that same courtesy here. Please simply pay out my policy in full, and end my suffering and allow me to rebuild a life for myself and my surviving children.

Sincerely,

Marissa Christenson

Their response? "We'll put a copy in your file."

And then, they had me go through the list. They wanted to know exactly what my issues with it were, and they wanted to give bullshit excuses as to why they had chosen to ignore the make, model, and sometimes even serial number, or the exact brand of cold cereal, and to price almost everything ridiculously low. And to "find out" why numerous items had been erased from the list. And to demand proof that I owned these things, and that they were worth anything.

Funny how, when you're paying for a policy that insures the contents of your home up to the value of what they assume you will own based off how much your home is worth, they gleefully take your money for that without making you prove you actually own it. Only when it's lost do they think "well, maybe you were paying for way more coverage than you deserve".

Anyway, my adjuster and his coworker had me go through the list, and go through pictures to prove, for example, that my dining room chairs were not metal chairs from Home Depot. This took well over two hours, and I cried almost the entire time. Because our house burned down within days of Atticus's death, most of my pictures feature him (and his brothers). And so I click through them all, seeing everything I have lost. I understand that we as a society mock the idea of "triggers", but if you don't think clicking through pictures and seeing your beautiful son smiling and knowing he'd be dead in a handful of days can't cause a panic attack, well, I don't know what to tell you.

And then, of course, I have to provide receipts in order to cover depreciation. Which is absurdly high, by the way. (The "things" in my house that the builders need to provide, such as bathroom cabinets, all have less than 10% depreciation, and yet my actual antique needlepoint chair has a 50% depreciation. I had no idea used antiques lost their value so quickly compared to used medicine cabinets that do in fact come from Home Depot!) And they'd explained to me on the day of the fire that I would need to keep my receipts, so I have. But I can't just hand the receipts over; I have to write the line-number that corresponds to each item on the receipt that I'm trying to claim. And the line-number has to come from their list, which is not searchable by computer. So I open up my Excell sheets, and run a search for the item, and see it's about (say) a third of the way through the "misc household" section. Then I turn to their list and read the items and get punched in the stomach over and over and over again. The new playdough we got Everett is sandwiched between toys of Atticus's. The storage bins are next to the cat scratchers, and I think of the pain my kitties suffered and hope they passed out before burning to death.

It's awful. It's awful and completely unnecessary. Farmers knows I owned this stuff and that I have to replace it. They make me endure intense emotional pain in order to save some money. They're a Fortune 500 Company, and they want to nickle and dime my children out of coloring books. The irony here is, of course, had their settlement been even a little bit fair, I would have accepted it. They could have joyfully cheated me out of $100,000 worth of stuff and I would have just rolled over, because this hurts so incredibly much. But they got greedy and want to take so much that I can't justify not doing it, because I do, after all, have two living children who have lost almost everything and deserve to have new Paw Patrol wall decals in addition to walls to put them on. It's not fair that my children have lost so very much. And obviously the most important things cannot be replaced. But the small things--the familiar tow truck and bath toys--I'll be damned if I'm going to let Farmers take those from them as well.

My meeting was long, well over 2 hours. And at the end of it, I got vague assurances that things would be looked into. All of that pain, all of those tears, and I get a few placating words. Oh, and a promise that the adjuster will call me on Monday. Which, of course (of course) he did not.

And so now I have to hire a lawyer. And I'm so furious. I'm mad that I have to hire someone to make Farmers Insurance follow the law. How is that the world we live in? Where it's fucking optional for insurance companies to live up to their contracts? I'm mad that I will have to pay this lawyer, which means less money for my children (but of course, more than we currently have, but still). And above all I'm afraid it will just be a whole bunch of extra pain. I'll have to tell my story, give him or her my pictures (I assume, as I'm not paying someone to tell me to go through them myself), my receipts, my spread sheets. And I'll have to trust someone else to not screw me over, which frankly is difficult to do.

 

I don't really have anything insightful to say. I'm just exhausted. I'm emotionally beat. And it's devastating that we live in a society that is perfectly fine with Fortune 500 companies taking advantage of people's grief.  We lack empathy in so many ways, so I'm not surprised by this. It's just that I had to fight so very hard every single day of Atticus's life to get him what he needed...and now he's dead and I'm having to fight just as hard for his brothers, and I don't even have him to hold at the end of the day.

I just can't anymore.