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Left Uncovered

No one is immune to Mother Nature’s wrath. This has never been more evident with the natural disasters in Japan, New Orleans, and Haiti still fresh our minds. The advent of social media has pictures of tattered homes and displaced families reaching mass audiences with startling immediacy—forcing us to contemplate the one thing nobody wants to consider: the possibility of a natural disaster affecting us in a similar way.

Fortunately for many of us, we are comforted with the foreknowledge that in the event we do experience a natural disaster or even a surprise storm that causes unexpected chaos, we have the safety blanket of home insurance to cover the damages.

Well, that wasn’t so in Jen Tolbert’s case.

Hail Storm in Charlotte April 2011

Image from WCNC in Charlotte showing the sky during the April 2011 hail storm

In April 2011, a hail storm caused damage to Jen’s roof.  Hail, an inch in diameter damaged houses, cars, and knocked out power during a storm that reportedly lasted for four hours.  In fact, the majority of the homes in her neighborhood needed replacement roofs. Homeowner’s insurance covered the neighbor’s new roofs, including Jen’s immediate neighbors whom she happens to share a townhouse and roof with, but it wouldn’t cover Jen’s.

Jen has been searching high and low for help.    After a roofing contractor told Tolbert that her insurance provider Erie Insurance has a reputation for denying such claims, she began calling and writing letters. They responded by sending out a third party company to view the damage. They concluded that it did not incur enough damage to warrant a replacement roof—even though all of her surrounding neighbors were approved for a new roof without question. More letters produced a similar result: another company came out to assess the damage, but would not approve a new roof.

Frustrated by their lack of understanding, she sent a letter to the company’s president asking for fair treatment.  In a return letter, their President likened her situation to those that experience a tornado; one house can be completely ruined by a tornado while nearby homes remain unharmed. But comparing a hail storm to a tornado?

If it were me, I would’ve written back with the following multiple choice question:

Hail is defined as “a showery precipitation in the form of irregular pellets or balls of ice more than 1 / 5  in. (5 mm) in diameter, falling from a cumulonimbus cloud over a geographical area.” Which of the following natural phenomena is most unlike hail?

A.)  Rain

B.)  Snow

C.)  A Tornado

While a tornado may cause more damage, hail is more consistent in its destruction—affecting homes of a certain area equally.

She posted on their Facebook page and they did respond to her stating they got her letter and are not going to take care of the roof.  More often than not, brand response on Facebook is extremely low.   In fact, 95% of consumers who post on company Facebook pages don’t get a response.  It is a staggering figure and is likely because so many people use it inappropriately which often has a negative impact on the loyal customers who use it properly, like Jen.

Despite being a model customer since 1996—always pays her bills on time, minimal claims, even goes through Erie for her family’s car insurance—her legitimate claim has been denied.  When asked, she said that as a consumer and someone who has spent tens of thousands of dollars for coverage over the years to prepare for situations like this, it is disappointing.  Although she vows to continue to fight for the same fair coverage all of her neighbors have received from their insurance companies, she is losing faith in the whole insurance process.


  • I believe she also turned to Twitter.   I also sent out tweets on her behalf with no response.   Time for the Insurance commissioner. 

  • Moore234

    I recommend reporting them to whatever governing bodies for insurance there are, BBB complaint and honestly let others know how they do business through social networks and negative publicity. A lawsuit may be in order if you can get them to also be liable for attorney fees. Do you have access to any video of hail storm to use as evidence? Good luck with this process!

    • dshowerman

      While we appreciate comments and passion, please refrain from using inappropriate language as this is a professional web site.  Thank you.

      • Moore234

         Sorry, I got a little worked-up.

  • I am wondering, does anyone know if Jen has made any headway with Erie?  Certainly seems like the resolution so far is unreasonable considering the facts?

    • Jentolbert

      Mark, unfortunately, Erie has not made any additional efforts to contact me since this blog was written.   Outside of the two typed letters I received early on telling me they were not going to do the right thing and replace my roof, I have heard nothing.  No phone calls, no emails, no additional mailed letters.

      To say I am disappointed in Erie is an understatement.  After being such a loyal customer for so many years, it frustrates me beyond words.  All I can hope is that others will read this and keep this story in mind when choosing an insurance carrier.

      • Jen – So, essentially all the other insurance companies fixed the roofs and Erie (or the adjuster they sent) chose to exclude your home?   Has anyone actually come out to your home who worked directly for Erie?  

        • Jentolbert

          Mark, literally EVERY SINGLE HOME AROUND ME and across the street (with one exception because I don’t think they decided to try and replace) had their replaced with other insurance companies.  Erie even did one!  Not only that, MY VERY OWN BUILDING (I live in a townhouse and share with one other) had the roof replaced by another insurance company!  

          Erie has sent third party companies out to inspect our roof.   I’ve spoken with an Erie adjuster, but he didn’t actually get on my roof (to the best of my knowledge).

          • Mwallace6161

            Jen – what concerns me is even after all of the above that no one from Erie came out to see it and seem to be ignoring what seems like a very relevant campaign.

            I was on a call the other day and they were talking about why Southwest Airlines has great customer service in an industry with a lot of competition. The reason why is lateral service. employees from pilots to stewardesses are required to help customers. What that does is cuts back on outsourcing for help during peak times. Have you asked if they always outsource to a third party? This would seem like a peak time and what contractor earning revenue is not going to look after their own interests – I.e. more jobs? I would be curious if the other companies had staff come out that we’re actual employees?

  • jentolbert

    On top of everything else, we just got a letter in the mail from Erie saying they are raising our rates and we have 15 days to confirm we want to renew at the higher rate. Goodbye Erie! Officially shopping for a new company.