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Home insurers deny Chinese drywall claims

PALMETTO — Like others with Chinese-made drywall in their homes, Joe and Brittany Baker sought relief from their homeowners insurance company.

And, like others, the Bakers were turned down. State Farm denied the Palmetto couple’s claim, saying their policy doesn’t cover damages allegedly caused by Chinese drywall in their home.

That’s because homeowner policies in Florida typically contain provisions that exclude coverage for damages caused by pollution and construction defects, said Ron Kammer, a Miami attorney who often represents insurers.

Darren Inverso, a Sarasota attorney who has filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of a Lakewood Ranch homeowner, agreed. “They’re not insuring that you received a good house,” he said.

That has become a common response from property and casualty insurers faced with drywall-related claims, homeowners and attorneys involved in the unfolding issue said Tuesday.

“It’s across the board,” Inverso said.

It’s unknown just how many such claims have been filed, and denied, since the drywall issue surfaced last year. But more than 430 Florida home-owners, including 33 from Manatee, have complained to state health officials that the drywall emits noxious odors, corrodes air-conditioner parts and causes respiratory problems.

The issue potentially could affect more than 100,000 U.S. homes including more than 30,000 in Florida, according to some estimates.

“Our member insurers are seeing the issue in various states, states with high humidity, and it’s usually not covered,” said Julie Pulliam, spokeswoman for the American Insurance Association.

She said the industry group did not have statistics on how many drywall-related claims have been filed. The insurance industry’s response should be no surprise, said Kammer, who sat on a panel that addressed insurance issues during a recent drywall litigation conference.

“All three of us (on the panel) agreed that it was unlikely that homeowner insurers would assist owners of homes impacted by Chinese drywall,” he said.

Still, Inverso said he recommends filing homeowner claims so insurers are put on notice that the home contains Chinese-made drywall.

Kammer said homeowners might have better luck filing claims under the builder’s, drywall supplier’s or drywall manufacturer’s commercial general-liability policy. But whether that works will depend on the policy’s language, which can vary greatly, he said.

The Bakers, who live in the Carpentras of the Villages of Avignon subdivision, have not done that yet, saying they’re mulling their options. A State Farm spokeswoman could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.

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