Wherever the Road Leads

Going Up In Flames

What You Don’t Realize About Insurance

This is a long story. It’s been a long process. Even longer when you’re the one living it.

On May 16th of 2019, I closed up my 2018 Coachmen Chaparral 40′ Fifth Wheel trailer in an RV Park near Knoxville, Tennessee. It was pulled using the RV Park’s tractor to the storage area, a field adjacent to the RV Park and parked among ten other coaches. I put on wheel covers to protect my brand new Sailun tires, removed the battery, did a walk-around, climbed into the truck then headed north to visit family.

Eleven days later, May 27th, Memorial Day, my camper and several others burned to the ground.

I learned of the fire the following day. The RV Park confirmed the loss and stated mine was affected the worst. The Park Handyman, who had driven the tractor and placed the coach, asked me if I had been in the area the day before or if I knew anyone who drove a burgundy pickup, as there had been one sighted around the time of the fire and it could not be accounted for. That filled me with some dread as, if it was ruled arson, it could take a long time for the claim to be processed. The burgundy pick up was soon identified as the owner of a camper that had been in storage. He was there to clean it out to put it up for sale.

Oct ’18. Retrieving the trailer at its summer storage near Knoxville, Tn.

 

I called my Insurance Agent and was put through to Claims. The Claims lady told me to call the Insurance Company directly. While I was polite and I did indeed phone the Insurance Company directly, I did think to myself, “Then what do I need you for, lady? I pay my premium directly to the Insurance Company, now they are the ones doing the legwork. Maybe they should reduce my premium in the amount of your commission being as you’re not doing diddley for me.” However, the relationship did improve.

I called the Insurance Company to report the Claim. Within an hour or so, I was contacted by the Claims Investigator and things got rolling. Later that day, though, he called me back to tell me that I might consider getting a lawyer as I had no Property Damage coverage. He explained that my Property Damage coverage followed the truck. Okay, what does that mean? He explained that if my coach was found to be the cause of the fire, the Insurers of the other affected coaches could come after me personally to recoup their losses, called “Subrogation”.

So, most everything I own has gone up in flames. My bed sheets, blankets, electric blanket, pillows, all my clothes, hats, sweatshirts, many photographs going back to my father’s Navy service, my collection of unwanted pennies, towels, soap, shaving cream, laundry detergent, toaster oven, pots, pans, cutlery, dishes plus the hundreds of dollars in tools that sneak into the outside bay twenty and thirty dollars at a time… all gone.

First, very basic RV Park, close to Tractor Supply, to make sure everything works.

 

But that’s the good news. Now it looks like I’m going to lose everything else I own in savings or investments, trying to repay the damage to the other coaches. In the video, above, it’s easy to recognize my coach. It’s the one with the most smoke, the most flames and the most nothing left. You don’t have to watch too many episodes of Forensic Files to come to the conclusion that the cause of the blaze is most likely the one in the thick of things.

I got four new ulcers that day alone. Well, mostly at night, as sleep was best determined as tossing and turning in a cold sweat for six hours.

How could this happen, I wondered? I thought back to when I first set up this policy. My house had been sold. I was registering as a Full-Timer. The trailer was my Full Time residence. I had purchased the truck, the Ford Dually, but still had the 26′ pull trailer, ten years old and worth about $194. The Agent at the time kept returning to ask questions about the 26′ pull trailer, rather than the much more expensive truck. I asked him why. He explained that the trailer was insured like a house, and it was the anchor to which the truck is grounded. So how could my house not have Property Damage?

Within a few days, I called the Agent to talk to the Claims Lady again, asking her just that question. She didn’t know. I asked how it worked when a bricks-and-sticks home burned down and the house beside was affected? She said it was because the house was not in storage. In order for my trailer to have coverage, it had to be ‘in the proximity of’ the truck. Meaning that I could leave the trailer in an RV site to go for groceries, be a tourist or go visiting as long as I returned to the trailer within a reasonable time. She said that she was not familiar with this type of claim but would do some research.

Smoky Mountains near Pigeon Forge, Tn.

 

When I bought the truck, I set up a Montana LLC, “Cripple Creek Enterprises”, in Montana. The truck then eventually the Chaparral fifth wheel were both titled to “Cripple Creek Enterprises”. Both vehicles were registered in and bear Montana license plates. When I considered doing this it was after a lot of research. If you do a google search on “Montana LLC” it brings up loads of companies offering that service, beginning at $49. Also available is a Law Firm for considerably more money. That was the way I chose to go. My reasoning was that if I ever needed some help, I wanted a lawyer in my corner rather than a single mom working from her basement.

I wondered if the fact that the trailer was owned by Cripple Creek Enterprises and not me personally, if that might shield me from any litigation/ subrogation. I called the lawyer to ask. He pretty much told me to contact one of these ambulance-chasing 444-4444 or 888-8888 lawyers who sponsor the 5:00 local news. Great. I could have gotten that answer from the Single Mom in her basement. I’ve got a Claims Lady who doesn’t know claims and a Montana Lawyer who doesn’t know law.

I looked up “Knoxville Subrogation Lawyers” on the internet. Damn. Subrogation is big business. After throwing up, I decided that I’d wait to find the cause of the fire and hope it to be “undetermined”.

 

Near Asheville, North Carolina.

 

Within a few days, I was called by Troy, a guy who worked for a third-party fire ‘Cause and Origin’ company. He asked a few questions about the coach then we had quite a conversation about camping and traveling and careers, him being ex-Coast Guard. He made me feel a little better as he said that my coach having the most smoke and flames might not indicate being the cause, it could be the coach’s middle location, much like closing the damper on a fire place.

The next day on his way home from the fire scene, Troy said that they thought the cause was my propane/electric refrigerator. I told him that my fridge was “residential”, it was 12-volt DC only. It was not a dual propane/electric unit, it was electric only. He expressed surprise then told me, “Okay, I’m going to dig deeper into the pile to find that cigarette butt.”

Meanwhile, I was going round and round with the Insurance Company and the Insurance Agent. How could I not have Property Damage? The Insurance Claims guy said they didn’t sell such a thing/ option/ rider. I told them both, “I can’t believe that mine is the first time in the history of Insurance that this has happened or been anticipated”. I got the answer. From the heretofore under-appreciated Claims Lady at the Agency.

Lake Harmony RV Park near Savannah, Ga.

 

When the policy was amended after I bought the Chaparral fifth wheel then phoned in the details to the Agency, the “Full Time Endorsement” had NOT been included in the amended policy, it had been overlooked.  The Full Time Endorsement was where the coach’s Property Damage Liability was contained. Oops. This meant that I still did not have Property Damage liability, however I was off the hook. If anyone was getting sued through Subrogation, it would be the Agency, not me. I slept like a baby that night, savings and 401ks intact.

Still hurricane-ravaged near Panama City, Fla.

 

Troy, the ‘Cause and Origin’ fire Investigator went in on June 4th, eight days after the fire. The Claim sat with no progress for another 17 days, even though I was in touch with the Agency and the Claims Adjuster regularly. On Friday, June 21st, three days short of four weeks from the fire, the Claims Adjuster said he had pushed the Claim to his Supervisor for her approval. She, apparently, told him that all looked well but to reach out to Troy, the Cause and Origin guy to make sure he saw no red flags. Yippee!!

A week later I called back. Had Troy seen any red flags? Claims Man now told me that two other affected Insurance Companies were sending in their own Cause and Origin investigators and we were now waiting for their reports. Say, what???!!!. Something is rotten in Denmark.. Would Coke not sell you a Coke because Pepsi was doing research? Would Macy’s not sell you a shirt because JCPenny is doing inventory? If my Insurance Company thought that the cause of the fire was suspect, then surely they would be the ones arranging further investigation, not waiting for their competition to act.

Two weeks later, July 9th, we are still waiting for the competition’s reports. Frustrated and fed up, once again I reached out to Troy. Troy has no idea who my Claims Adjuster is, never heard from him. Never heard of him. He knew that one Insurance Company had been to the scene a few weeks back. Best he knew, the other company had no intention of sending anyone in. But he offered to make some inquiries of his boss and beyond.

Gulf Shores, Alabama. Roll Tide.

 

At the same time, my Claims Adjuster had taken a new position, out of Claims and into Total Loss. He will be able to work from home, a much better arrangement for him and his six-year-old son. I knew all this because I had spoken to him so many times. July 10th, magically, my Claim was approved, as was a check for Personal Loss. Maybe my Insurance Company always delays payment as long as possible. Maybe my Adjuster dragged his feet on my virtually-completed claim so he wouldn’t have to take on a new, fresh claim before his move. It did seem to take an inordinately long time, maybe it was the stress of getting sued.

Two days later, the claim had been processed through Total Loss and passed on to a Replacement Company. Meaning, the Insurance Company will not be sending me a check, saying ‘have at it’. The Replacement Company will price a new, never-titled coach the same as what I had. Yes, I had “Replacement” coverage. I can choose to buy the same model which they will locate, or I can choose a different brand and model… and dealer, but the Replacement Company will be handling the money end of the transaction, directly to the dealer.

Newly set up Computer Room, replacing the bunk beds.

 

Soon after, I was contacted by the Replacement Company. During our first conversation he told me that it typically takes five business days to find an identical coach. Foolishly getting my hopes up, I believed him. A month later with no coach, I have learned how the process works.

“Replacement Man” has to find an identical coach – exact same options and features – available for sale at a dealership working outwards from my home zip code. After much longer than five business days, he told me that finding an identical coach that had the auto-level feature and second air conditioner that I had was difficult. Then, when he did find one, with this being the peak RV Sales season, it got sold out from under him before he could get the valuation approved by the Insurance Company then offered to me.

I have decided that what will work best for me is to get a quote on a brand-new, custom ordered coach, identical to what I had. Once that is approved by the Insurance Company, I’ll have Replacement Man put in the order and I’ll wait the ten week build time. Hopefully that will happen within the next ten days, three months after the fire. When the new coach is delivered to the dealer, I’ll pack up the truck and the cat then head south to do the Pre Delivery Inspection, sign on the dotted line, hitch up then head for Texas. Via Wal-Mart, Target, Sam’s Club, Kroger and Belk.

Near Houston, Tx.

 

Rockport, Texas. Never again.

 

What caused the fire? No idea. The coaches were all in a field that had no power to it. I removed my battery so there was no possibility for my coach to provide a spark. I spoke with the local Fire Marshall who had ruled out criminal activity and added that while he was not part of the investigation, he thought that if mine was to go up in flames, it would have been much sooner than ten days after being parked. That would apply also to the coaches that had been in the field longer than mine. Coincidentally, the day that there was human intervention in the form of a burgundy pickup and a man cleaning out his trailer, the fire began. I think the viewing of a couple more episodes of Forensic Files is in order.

This time, I’ll be working from scratch, new everything. Previously, I had sheets, towels, dishes, mugs, pots and pans, shaving cream, saran wrap, trash bags, aspirin, knives and forks, salt and pepper and a coffee maker in the house that I moved into the 26′ pull trailer, then into the fifth wheel. This time, I have nothing, not a sausage.

Does GoodWill take credit cards?

 

 

 

The Rio Grande Valley, Mission Texas. Hallelujah! Oleander Acres RV Park.

 

Headed back north. Looking out the bedroom slide window in the rain, Seguin, Texas. (Pronounced suh-GEEN)

 

Hot Springs, Arkansas

 

Memphis Fleabag.

 

Expanding RV Park in bustling Nashville, Tn.

 

Full circle, 3600 miles. Its final resting place near Knoxville, Tn.
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Comments

  1. elayne taylor  August 18, 2019

    wow oh wow Gordon when you do something you do it up right.. It must be very difficult having to deal long distance for all this.. Don;t forget to recoup any LD phones charges as well.. I am glad it is mostly sorted out now and after a little delay, you can continue on your winter journey . Hugs elayne

    reply
    • gordon  August 20, 2019

      Thank you, Elayne.

      reply
  2. Jan  August 19, 2019

    Isn’t there a line item for medical costs for ulcers 😢

    reply
  3. Alistair Mair  August 19, 2019

    Good update for all!

    reply
  4. Morag  August 19, 2019

    So sorry that you lost so much. I didn’t realize it was all gone. How sad is that, no wonder you feel like your getting a ulcer with all the insurance and liability issues. You definitely need a hug….Jan mentioned that you lost your pictures. I do have. An original wedding picture of your mom and dad that you are welcome to have. I’ll look and see if I have any others. Morag

    reply
    • gordon  August 20, 2019

      Thank you, Morag.

      reply
  5. Your 4-eyed Niece  August 20, 2019

    As the individual who introduced you to Forensic Files, I expect a personal shout-out at every mention of this masterpiece in all future articles.

    Sorry for your loss. Perhaps Cameron was onto something with his early comments on your previous mobile home… this one was too nice. Attracted too much attention?

    Also, did the storage facility not have security cameras in the area? I feel like that’s a necessity when people’s homes are at stake… and that sort of visual could be enlightening in an investigation such as this. Just a thought.

    reply
    • gordon  August 20, 2019

      The picture above captioned “Retrieving the trailer…” was from a typical storage facility with the orange doors. Trailer storage was an afterthought for them and I had a difficult job – I clipped a corner of the camper – maneuvering the trailer out the gate and onto the road. They may have had cameras.

      This RV Park’s ‘storage area’ was simply an open field adjacent to the RV Park and its sites. No difficulty maneuvering, no power, no cameras… just an unknown source for fires.

      reply

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