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Late August bad time for USM prof to move to Coast

Jon Beedle always wanted to be a teacher like his father and grandfather. He was born in Starkville and grew up in North Carolina and prepared to follow the family profession by earning a doctoral degree. He worked at other jobs including research and curriculum development at Mississippi State University.

This past summer, he was offered a full-time position teaching technology education at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Park Campus in Long Beach. His dream was about to come true and he headed for the Gulf Coast to find housing. After a lengthy search, he found a cottage to rent on Livingston Drive in the Henderson Point area of Pass Christian.

Beedle, 34, moved his belongings into the cottage Friday, August 26 only to evacuate for Hurricane Katrina the next day, August 27. After the devastation of August 29, Beedle returned to find all his belongings destroyed.

“It’s the ultimate in bad timing,” he said. “Even if I had been offered flood insurance, which I was not, there would have been a 30-day waiting period for it to go into effect. I wasn’t told that no coverage could be written when a named storm enters the Gulf either. With people always moving to the Coast, there must be others caught in this predicament like I am.”

This Coast newcomer thought he would be compensated for his personal belongings by the homeowner’s policy still in effect on the home he sold in Starkville just before moving. It’s true the policy was still effective but the carrier, State Farm Insurance Company, denied his claim.

“I would like to know why the claim was denied but have not been able to obtain a copy of the adjustor’s report,” Beedle said. “I would like to know how they determined their finding. I had $150,000 worth of coverage which would have more than covered my losses.”

Susan Lamey, public affairs specialist for State Farm in Mississippi, says it’s company policy not to share the adjustor’s report with policy holders. “The report is an internal working document and we don’t furnish that to policy holders,” she said. “In some instances, we do share photos and we will examine any additional information policy holders have to submit. We will take that into consideration.”

She stressed that it is also company policy not to discuss individual claims with the media and she can not comment on Beedle’s claim. “We respect the policy holder’s privacy in that regard,” she said. “We work very closely with policy holders and claims are not taken lightly. We carefully inspect each claim and all information that is submitted.”

In addition to the adjustor’s report and photos, weather data is sometimes involved, too. After receiving a letter of denial, a policy holder who has questions may hire a third party to inspect State Farm’s claim documents.

“We will always be happy to speak with policy holders about their claims after we’ve sent denial letters,” Lamey added. “Our commitment is to the policy holders, and we’ll do everything we can to assist.”

State Insurance Commissioner George Dale confirms that insurance companies are required to provide reasons a claim was denied in a letter but not a copy of the report. Providing this information, along with photos, is the norm. Any engineering report is not given to clients either.

“If it goes to court, then those things must be provided, too,” he said. “As a consumer, I would try to get as much information to support my case as I possibly could. In the wind-versus-water argument, it could be things like missing shingles, windows blown out, neighbors who saw the storm, video tapes and things like that.”

Although the longtime commissioner is hearing a little bit of everything these days, this is the first case he’s heard of a coastal newcomer denied coverage. “It’s a tragic thing,” he said. “We are trying to help. In some cases we can. We lobby the companies to pay customers if there is any wiggle room to do so.”

In a bulletin dated September 7, Dale said companies must be able to clearly demonstrate the cause of the loss regarding whether the loss was caused by wind or water. “I expect and believe that where there is any doubt, that doubt will be resolved in favor of finding coverage on behalf of the insured,” he wrote.

He said of the large number of calls received by his office daily, the majority are from policy holders denied claims.
Meanwhile, Beedle is living in a dormitory on USM’s Gulf Coast Research Lab Campus in Ocean Springs. He’s writing letters to elected officials and pursuing every avenue to learn why State Farm denied his claim. “I don’t want to accept the letter of denial and will go through every avenue possible to learn why my claim was denied,” he said. “I just want to know how they arrived at this decision.”

Another USM Gulf Park professor, Pat Smith, is trying to help Beedle and others find temporary housing. “About 30% of our faculty and staff lost their homes and are struggling to find somewhere to live during the next 12 to 18 months,” he said. “We’re putting out a plea to the alumni to help.”
Smith said he is attempting to secure FEMA trailers for faculty and employees, some of whom have sites and others who do not. “We’ve been beaten up by FEMA’s bureaucracy. They won’t let us help ourselves,” he said. “USM is willing to use property to provide a site for faculty trailers, but FEMA will not approve it.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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