Bamboozled: Awash in consternation

No one likes to pay insurance premiums, but we’re all glad to have coverage in force when a mishap occurs.BB branding

Joshua Oliveri had no worries should something ever happen to his family’s Franklin Park condo. The property is covered by two policies: a homeowner’s policy he purchased himself, and a separate policy purchased by his condo association and paid for in part through his monthly condo dues.

But when the family’s six-year-old washing machine malfunctioned the night of April 6, neither insurance company was eager to help.

Around 11 p.m. on the night in question, Stacie Oliveri, home alone with sleeping kids, started a load of laundry in the machine, located on the second floor. She then laid down for the night.

Somehow, the washer stopped draining and water flooded everywhere.

“Once the water became too much, it collapsed the ceiling. My wife said it sounded like a bomb went off,” Joshua Oliveri said. “She immediately shut off the main water. When I got home from visiting my parents, water was still pouring from the ceiling.”


Joshua Oliveri said the family lost all of their downstairs furniture, the downstairs ceiling, 80 percent of the carpet and the kitchen floor was damaged.

7111Worried that the water would cause additional harm, Oliveri immediately called a flood remediation company. He said the company placed nine drying fans around the home and Oliveri was up until 4 a.m. with workers, who told him his fast action would save a lot of wood and limit needed repairs.

“Had I reacted like most people, the wood could have been rotted or moldy, which would have driven up the costs for whomever is eventually going to pay for this,” Oliveri said. “My actions limited the repairs to simple sheet rock and flooring — simple sheetrock and flooring — which is now in the third month of incompleteness.”

Oliveri notified his homeowners’ insurance, Fidelity National Property & Casualty Insurance Co., and the condo association for the development, Society Hill at Somerset III.

Fidelity sent an adjuster to weigh the damage, which Oliveri said was about $10,000. (The estimate was never given to Oliveri in writing.)

The damaged furniture was estimated to be worth about $3,500, and Fidelity sent the Oliveris a check for $1,390 — value after depreciation.

Fidelity told Oliveri the association’s insurance policy should pay for the other damage because that policy was the primary policy, and if that claim was denied, Oliveri could again file with Fidelity. Oliveri asked the association to make a claim, yet it refused.

“The association is not only saying that they are not the primary, but they are also refusing to file a claim to their insurance saying they are not obligated to do so,” Oliveri said. “Fidelity is refusing to pay unless there is a declined claim from the association’s insurance.”

Caught between two insurers and without discretionary funds to pay for repairs, the Oliveris weren’t sure where to turn.

Fights with insurance companies are nothing new to Oliveri. He shares his home with his wife Stacie and their two daughters, 8 and 3. The younger girl, Emerson, was born with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia, a malformation of the diaphragm that forces the abdominal organs to push towards the chest, causing breathing problems. While getting treatment at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Emerson and her mom stayed at Ronald McDonald House and Oliveri fought with his health insurance company over Emerson’s care.

“Every day we live in this construction zone — in a state of disrepair — is another day we risk yet another visit to the doctor,” Oliveri said.

The flood’s damage was more than an eyesore. Emerson’s health suffered from the dust, Oliveri said. She started having new breathing complications and required nebulizer treatments.

A family friend in the construction business replaced the ceiling, work valued at $4,500, for free, Oliveri said, while the family waited for one of the insurance companies to step up.

Oliveri isn’t looking for a fortune. He just wants his two paid-for insurance policies to cover the damage: to put his house back to normal and to give his daughter a safe living environment.

“What’s not reasonable is the fact that my repairs should be held up while two insurance companies have a pissing match,” Oliveri said in an e-mail. “Both parties are comfortable doing nothing for me, despite the fact that I am also paying both of these parties.”


Three months and dozens of telephone calls and letters later, the Oliveris are still living without replacement flooring, including in their daughters’ bedroom. They’re also facing a flood remediation bill of $1,587, a claim recently denied by Fidelity. Bamboozled called the association to understand why it wasn’t willing to submit a claim.

The association’s attorney, Herbert Cutolo, said Fidelity, not the association’s insurance, would be responsible for the damage.

“The association is responsible for all the common elements, like the roof, the siding, the roads,” Cutolo said. “I really think it’s his insurance that’s not acting in the appropriate manner because the damage started within the unit.”

But there’s more to it than culpability.

Cutolo said because the association has had several large claims in recent years, including a 2007 fire that destroyed the clubhouse, the future of the association’s insurability is in question.

“We’ve been advised if there’s one more claim, there’s going to be a problem,” Cutolo said, noting the association could lose its insurance and be placed in a high-risk pool, which would cost all homeowners more with either a special assessment or higher monthly maintenance fees.

We tried to get Fidelity’s take, but over the course of two weeks, no one from the company returned our many telephone messages or e-mails.

We asked three independent insurance agents to review the policies, and they were all in agreement. They all questioned whether the association had the authority to refuse to file a claim in the first place. Plus, they noted that the association’s policy states it covers “Walls-In coverage per Builders Original Specs.” That would suggest there’s coverage to replace items the Oliveris lost, such as builders-grade flooring.

So is the association acting properly by refusing to file a claim? Or is the Oliveri’s policy with Fidelity the one responsible?

Now a judge will decide. Rather than stay in limbo, the Oliveris are filing suit in Superior Court in Somerset County, asking the court to issue a declaratory judgment which will determine the rights and obligations of all parties.

“This case is a perfect example of the frustration that consumers encounter when dealing with insurance companies,” said Timothy Wiss, the Oliveri’s attorney.

The case is expected to be filed in the next week or so. We’ll keep you posted.