Exceptional Claims Handling

“I couldn’t have been more pleased with PURE’s punctuality and professionalism. From start to finish, they could not have been more accommodating to my needs. The way PURE treated me is something I won’t forget.”

Brian Lash, PURE member since 2014

WINTER WEATHER: AN UNASSUMING THREAT

Winter Weather Story - The Timbers Brian Lash, PURE member since 2014

The insurance industry uses the term ‘catastrophe’ to describe events like major hurricanes, wildfires, and floods—all of which are known to cause significant, wide-spread loss. Winter weather is not typically thought of in the same regard, but in 2015 it was the greatest source of claims among the PURE membership. Between late January and March, we saw record-setting conditions in much of the Northeast. New England was hit particularly hard; snowfall totals were in excess of 100 inches, and there was a stretch of more than 35 consecutive days in which the temperature sat below 40 degrees.

In the end, PURE members experienced claims totaling more than $57 million as a result of these unprecedented conditions—the majority of which were due to ice dams and frozen pipes. For perspective, claims resulting from Superstorm Sandy totaled around $30 million for PURE.

Among the PURE members impacted by winter weather in 2015 was Brian Lash. His 1917-built grand English Tudor style home, The Timbers, was designed by renowned architect John Russell Pope, whose other works include the Jefferson Memorial and the National Gallery of Art. The impeccably maintained Rhode Island home still boasts many of its original architectural details, including stunning timber beams, for which the home was named, that line the ceilings throughout.

On the morning of February 17, Brian received a distressing phone call from his sister-in-law who was staying at the property while he was out of town. Overnight, four pipes had burst in two separate bathrooms causing extensive damage on multiple levels of the home. To make matters worse, an ice dam above a third floor bedroom allowed additional moisture to enter.

Historic elements of the home, custom furnishings, and many of the Lash’s personal items were badly damaged. 

“The damage was considerable. Everything in the two bathrooms was beyond repair, and the kitchen was particularly bad. Water had run through the ceiling and down to the floor damaging nearly everything in its path: our custom counters and cabinetry, rare Italian floor tiles, and appliances,” said Brian. “Also lost were one-of-a-kind rugs, but what was most upsetting was the damage done to the timber ceiling beams. I just assumed they were beyond repair.”

PURE’s Claims Adjuster, Paula Smith, quickly reached out to Brian to offer assistance.

“I could not believe how quickly PURE responded,” said Brian. “She said, we’re going to take care of you, Mr. Lash, and then she offered to rent me another home while repairs were being made to mine. After a bad experience with another carrier, I was surprised by the level of service I was receiving and how uncommonly gracious PURE was.”

Meanwhile, contractors immediately began the three month project of restoring the home to its previous state. They even managed to restore the namesake timber beams.


advice to reduce the risk of a winter weather loss

Based on our considerable claims handling experience, we’ve formulated the following insights and advice to help you become more proactive about winter weather protection.

Unoccupied homes are at a heightened risk when it comes to winter weather damage.

Particularly problematic is the occurrence of burst pipes when a home is unoccupied; unless protective measures are taken, the end result is usually devastating. To help mitigate the risk:

  • Install a whole-house automatic water shut-off device with a central station alarm. This system monitors the flow of water in your home’s plumbing. If a leak is detected, it will automatically shut off your home’s water supply and notify you and your alarm company before serious damage occurs.
  • Maintain the temperature at or above 65 degrees during periods of extreme cold. As several members painfully learned in 2015, maintaining heat in the 50s while you’re away during extreme cold snaps may not be enough to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting. However, maintaining a temperature of 65 degrees is not economically practical in all situations, and it may even be unnecessary for homes in areas that don’t typically see freezing temperatures. A great alternative is to install a network-connected (or smart) thermostat which will allow you to remotely monitor and adjust the temperature in your home in response to changing outdoor conditions—greatly reducing the risk of burst pipes, as well as unnecessary spending on energy bills.
  • Enlist the help of a caretaker to check in on your property daily. Had Mr. Lash not taken this precaution, the damage would have been far more severe.
  • Insulate pipes in unheated areas of your home, such as the attic, basement, exterior walls, and even within cabinets where heat can’t easily reach. Uninsulated or under-insulated pipes are vulnerable to freezing when the temperatures drop. Foam-rubber pipe insulation or self-regulating heat tape can reduce that risk. A plumber or a PURE Risk Manager can help to determine if your pipes are at risk.

The age and material of your roof play a major role in how your home will fare during a severe weather event, whether that’s significant snowfall, wildfire, hail, or windstorm.

A modern, well-designed roof will provide the best protection. To help protect against ice damming, take these additional precautions:

  • Have your roof professionally inspected annually. A roofing professional can identify and fix weak spots before they turn into issues.
  • Remove snow accumulation from your roof. Constant fluctuation between freezing and warming temperatures, along with the accumulation of snow on a roof, will greatly increase the chances of developing an ice dam. After a considerable snowfall, hire a professional to rake the excess snow off your roof.
  • Install heated cables to gutters and downspouts. This will help to melt ice that would otherwise block snow melt from draining properly.
  • Have a contractor inspect the insulation in the attic to avoid heat loss. If you have the opportunity to re-insulate your attic, use spray foam as it’s often more effective.

For additional information to help you protect your home from a winter weather loss, contact the PURE Member Advocate® at memberadvocate@pureinsurance.com or 888.813.PURE (7873).

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“We took precautions. We followed defensible space guidelines. Our home was on a lake. All of the structures on our property were surrounded by gravel and sand. We regularly had professionals thin all of the trees on our property. The fire brigade actually called us ‘the poster children for fire prevention.’ We thought we were safe, but nothing could stop this fire.”

Patricia Hale and Robert Viggers, PURE members since 2015.

HANDLING CLAIMS WITH EMPATHY AND FORESIGHT

Robert Viggers and Patricia Hale, PURE members since 2015.

When someone loses everything in a traumatic event, it is often easier to sympathize with him or her for their loss than it is to stand in their shoes and comprehend the full extent of their emotions. At PURE, we expect all of our colleagues to demonstrate empathy. We select new employees based, in part, on a test of their emotional intelligence, which includes, among other things, the ability to be empathetic. We even hire specialists to train our people to further develop their empathy. 

The State of Washington was hit severely in 2015, with more than 1,500 individual wildfires reported in just a few short months. By August the area had been declared a federal state of emergency. Under those conditions, even the most protected home was at risk.

PURE members Patricia Hale and Robert Viggers were one of 120 families who lost their homes in the Okanagan Complex fire, the largest wildfire ever recorded in Washington. On August 18, 2015, the massive wildfire jumped over the lake that partially surrounded the property where the Viggers planned to spend their retirement, nearly leveling it. Over the 33 years that preceded, Pat and Bob spent much of their time building this property into the beloved family compound it had become. Now 9 of their 13 structures, including their main home, were destroyed. The fire was so intense that it turned concrete into dust and melted metal into pools.

“We were devastated by the loss. To us, it wasn’t just a home. It was such a special place. We had put decades of our life into building and expanding it. The newest structure was actually built out of trees from our own forest—trees that Bob and I peeled ourselves,” said Pat. 

When the Viggers evacuated, they had nothing but the clothes on their backs. The fire was spreading aggressively and quickly forced evacuations from all neighboring towns, which included the few hotels and shops in this very rural area. “We had nothing and nowhere to go. It was one of the sickest feelings of my life. We got in our car and just started driving away from the fire; we arrived at a hotel several hours later,” said Bob.

Then, the Viggers received something they never expected from their insurance company—a care package. “PURE sent us an iPad so we could stay connected with them and our families, duffle bags, toiletry items, tissues, chocolates, lip gloss, and more—everything we needed at that moment. Then our PURE Member Advocate® Joan Smith, called me to ask my size and my favorite brands so that she could buy clothes for me,” said Pat.

When the Viggers were finally allowed to return to their property nearly two weeks later, Joan along with their Claims Adjuster, Shawn Roessler, were by their side. “They literally held our hands. It was such an emotional day and they were so empathetic to us. They made us feel like everything would be ok. I just remember feeling thankful for PURE in that moment,” said Pat.

“As time went on, PURE continued to impress us. People were actually asking us how we could be so positive given what had happened, and it was because Joan, Shawn, and [our insurance broker] Taw Jackson of Wells Fargo were taking such great care of us. Having the financial and emotional support of PURE removed a lot of the trauma from the situation,” said Pat.


Reduce Your Risk to Wildfire Damage

The first step in wildfire mitigation is creating and maintaining defensible space around your home’s perimeter. This is a critical tactic in slowing or stopping the spread of wildfire; it will also help to prevent spot fires caused by flying embers. This does not mean you have to forgo a beautifully landscaped yard. Defensible space is about strategically clearing and placing vegetation to produce a buffer between your home or other structures on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs or any wildland area that surrounds it. To learn more about defensible space, visit puresituationroom.com

As an added layer of protection, PURE members in wildfire-prone areas may enroll in our Wildfire Mitigation Program. The program includes pre-fire and emergency response services intended to reduce, or even prevent, loss from wildfire. If you live in a wildfire-prone area and have not yet enrolled in this service, visit pureinsurance.com/wildfire

For additional information or assistance protecting your home from wildfires, contact a PURE Member Advocate® at memberadvocate@pureinsurance.com or 888.813.PURE (7873). 

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