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Homeowners Policy: Read the fine print

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By Gray Hall - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – If you haven't read your Homeowners Policy lately, you may want to after hearing about what happened to a Glen Allen woman.

Some routine work uncovered that she had a slow water leak behind her walls. The cost to fix it was $10,000 and her insurance company wouldn't cover the repairs.

Rita Ellis says a simple crack in her crown molding lead to a horrific discovery. She said "my contractor came over here and his whole foot went into the ground."

Pictures showed what was going on behind her walls. They tell the story of a slow water leak -- she had no idea.

"My initial thought was panic, how could this have happened how could I have not known," she said. 

After the initial panic, her next step was to get her insurance company, Liberty Mutual, on the phone. She just new she was covered, but when the adjuster showed up, she got the news no homeowner wants to hear.

"After telling me, 'oh yeah, this happens all the time,' and kind of like on my side type of thing and then he turned around to me and said but it is not covered," she said.

Ten-thousand dollars worth of damage, and she would have to come up with the money.

"I just was floored I was speechless and it's hard to imagine I could be speechless," she said. After reading her Liberty Mutual home owner's policy -- over a dozen pages front and back -- she still felt confident she was covered.

Her argument -- she was not negligent and didn't have what she calls "windows in her walls" -- so she couldn't have possibly know the damage was occurring. She said Liberty told her "read the policy -- it's not covered."

"The language in my policy is clearly meant for an attorney and I am really tired of everyone saying read your policy," she said.

We wanted to know just how easy it was to read Ellis's policy, so we took it to a consumer attorney. Attorney John Gayle, with The Consumer Law Group says, "Most legal documents are confusing to average people who are not attorneys." Gayle says everyone should read their policy and make sure they fully understand what's covered. He looked over Ellis' contract and says she may have a case.

"She didn't have X-Ray vision that superman has to see behind the walls, she didn't have a window in the wall to see the wood rotting," he said.

Gayle stresses this is only his initial analysis of the situation. He says, "This one struck me as pretty blatantly unfair but I learned a long time ago that every pancake has two sides, so I would love to hear from the adjuster."

We reached out to Liberty Mutual -- they tell us they don't comment on customer policies. Gayle says if you are in a similar situation you have options. He says, "If they decide they are not going to cover you, then your right is to challenge that at the State Corporation Commission or you could actually take the insurance company to court."

Rita plans to cancel her Liberty Policy, and while she may not get her $10,000 back, she hopes others learn from her story.

"You need to take a closer look at your house and on the insurance level, I would say take your policy to an attorney," she said.

Ellis says the Virginia State Corporation Commission, which deals with these type of complaints, sided with the Liberty and denied her claim. She plans to seek legal help.

Consumer Attorneys say another key piece of advice, have an expert, you have hired to conduct a thorough inspection of your home before you buy it.

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