Boulder County Homeowners Fighting For Homes

Fire Victims: Insurance Companies Not Paying What We Deserve

Eighteen homeowners are fighting their insurance companies, complaining they are not getting the money they deserve after a wildfire tore through their community.

The Fourmile Canyon Fire destroyed 169 homes and damaged dozens of others.

Many who had had partial damage to their homes or property are having difficulty getting the money they said they need to bring their items back to the way they were prior to the fire.

"Isn't that what insurance is for?" asked Joshua Onysko, of Boulder County. "If you get into an accident and the car is all smashed up, they don't say, 'We are just going to paint it.' You got to fix the house. You got to fix the car. That's what insurance is for, so you think."

Onysko said Farmer's Insurance, his insurance company, has paid him around $100,000, but the total costs to repair his home, he said, are closer to $360,000.

"It has been unfathomable," said Onysko. "It is like a second job" doing paperwork for the insurance claim, said Onysko. "You always hope that the company you cut a check to every month is going to cover you when things like this happen."

Onysko said while his home did not burn to the ground from the fire, the entire inside of his home was covered in soot because his windows had been left open. He said not only did his clothing and items inside his home smell, but further testing showed the insulation in his walls and drywall had smoke damage.

"The interior of the house was saturated with smoke," said Scott DeLuise, a licensed public adjuster, of Matrix Business Consulting. "We found particulates everywhere we looked in the house."

Onysko hired DeLuise when he realized Farmer's Insurance was not going to pay him what he wanted.

"We do whatever it takes to prove the damages to the insurance company," said DeLuise. "The smoke in the insulation can be repaired, but in order to do that the house has to be taken apart. You have to either take off sheetrock from the inside or siding from the outside."

Mark Toohey, a spokesman from Farmer's Insurance, said the company already paid Onysko to have a deodorizing technique known as ozone and thermal fogging done in his home.

"It is a standard practice in the industry," said Toohey.

But Onysko said it's not enough and he wants his home restored exactly the way it was before the fire.

Toohey told 7NEWS reporter Dayle Cedars that Farmer's Insurance will revisit Onysko's home if requested to take another look at items Onysko feels need to be addressed.

DeLuise said this is an example of insurance companies underpaying their claims.

"The insurance company is taking the position that it is not damaged, even though there wasn't smoke there before and there is smoke now," said DeLuise.

In situations where there are discrepancies between policy holders and insurance companies, a third party can sometimes be brought in.

The Colorado Division of Insurance said that is only when there are discrepancies concerning value, the actual cost of an item or items. In situations where the "scope" of the claim is in question, a third party is not required.

The Division of Insurance cannot force an insurance company to pay a claim or to go through the appraisal process with a third party, known as an umpire.

Onysko's only option may be to take this case to court if an agreement cannot be reached.