Spring brings a pattern of violent and sometimes deadly tornadoes in the United States. The night of April 12, 2020 was no different in Chattanooga TN. A tornado rated as EF3 to EF4 strength touched down and traveled across the area, wreaking havoc on commercial buildings and homes that stood in its path. Like many people that night, a young couple took refuge in a downstairs closet of their two-story dwelling and rode out the terror as the twister ravaged their home. It ripped a large portion of the roof from the house, moved an exterior wall of the foundation, and dumped a load of rain and other debris throughout the interior. The couple emerged from the closet shaken, but otherwise unharmed physically; but the nightmare of their ordeal was just beginning.
Like any homeowner, as the couple assessed the damage the day after, they contacted their insurance company, just as many others were doing. Fifteen days later, a franchise restoration vendor was contacted by the insurer’s Third-Party Administrator (TPA), and that restorer was on site the next day. The restorer approached the job as a Category 3 water damage, based on the phrase from the S500 describing “wind-driven rain et al” as indeed Category 3. The restorer was directed by either the Insurer or TPA to apply anti-microbial to all ceilings, walls, and floors and was further instructed to do nothing else until coverage was determined. Moisture Content was recorded as 99% for wood framing and Moisture Level as 99 for non-wood materials. Finally, on May 11, 2020, the restorer was instructed to begin the drying process. Fortunately, no visible fungal growth was noted as being observed. Writer is not sure how long drying methods were deployed.
Insured, having been notified by and receiving explanation from the restorer about Category 3 status, began to ask the restorer questions as to why sheetrock that had been recorded at the 99 level, and listed as affected by Category 3 water, was still in place. After several discussions, the insured was advised by the restorer that the Insurer had instructed restorer to change the job Category 3 to Category 2. As a restoration vendor of both the Insurer and the TPA, and due to the restoration company’s stringent guidelines to its franchises, the restorer complied with the directive. As the insured continued to ask questions, the restorer stated they were further instructed by the Insurer to have no further contact with the insured.
I was called into the fray by another restorer who was aware of the situation and asked to try and help the insured. I obtained as much paperwork as I could and began the process of writing reports to lobby for this water damage to remain as a Category 3. The argument centered around the S500’s definition of Category 2 vs Category 3 water. I showed that if the Category 2 definition was indeed acceptable, the fact that the job sat unattended for over 15 days placed the home in the Category 3 status.
As of the writing of this report, I have followed up with 3 more reports, the final one on June 30 when I was finally able to respond to the residence. In this fourth and final report, I was able to speak based on my own observations, include my own photographs, and inspect the home thoroughly, While I did not find high moisture contents in any wood materials that I could access, I did find numerous rooms with elevated sheetrock level readings, most in the 30 range when the comparable driest area found was at 5. I observed some fungal growth on the hardwood floors that were still in place. My biggest observation was that all exterior walls, some with major damage, contained blown-in insulation, which according to the S500 should be removed when it is wet. With the amount of roof missing, there is no doubt the insulation was saturated at some point.
Since then, the Insurer retained an IEP, who came to the same conclusions as I did, but were able to write a suggested protocol. At this point, the Insurer has not acted on the protocol.
The very essence of this situation, as I am sure many restorers have seen, shows the need for restoration contractors to recommend trained and experienced consultants to their clients. Not only will it serve their own interests for accountability and to ensure proper payment, it will protect the insured from questionable ethics by their Insurer and the Insurer’s TPA.
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