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Condo Fire: The Paton Family

Many condo owners and residents do not realize that they need two types of insurance policies – one for the building and exterior of the condominium and a second, separate policy that covers the interior and possessions.
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Click here to learn what every condo owner should know about condominium insurance!

Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to the smell of smoke. That is exactly what happened to Tom and Joanna Paton in their Solana Beach condo.

Waking up and wondering if they were dreaming, they quickly realized that the smoke was real and filling their bedroom. They needed to get out quickly to prevent being overcome by smoke. After the fire was put out the damage assessment was started. Luckily, the majority of the damage was smoke. The neighbor was not so fortunate. It was determined that the tenant had placed a cushioned chair up against a wall heater, which set the entire unit on fire, burning it to the ground.

The Patons reported the claim to their carrier who attempted to explain the condo coverage versus the coverage afforded by the Homeowner’s Association policy. The condo owners felt they were not being treated fairly and retained Kim Cary, a public adjuster, to help them with their negotiations with their carrier and the HOA and its insurance carrier.

The main issue was where did the Homeowner’s Association policy leave off and where did the condo owner’s policy begin?

The explanation was reasonable; the Homeowner’s Association policy included everything from the exterior ending at the interior drywall and the condo policy begins at the paint on the drywall and includes everything inside. The coverage started getting fuzzy when it was determined that the insulation between the units was heavily smoke damaged. This was the same wall where the kitchen was located. After much discussion, Kim was able to get the HOA carrier to agree to remove and replace the insulation, drywall and kitchen since there was no other way to replace the insulation. Kim also negotiated and settled with the Patons’ carrier for the remainder of the smoke damage throughout the condo.

“We worked with Kim Cary (who is now with Quality Claims Management), regarding our property damage claim with our carrier and the HOA and their insurance company, ” said Tom Paton. “She represented us and handled the negotiation and settlement process with the HOA’s carrier. She got it done and made sure our condo got fixed up the way it was before the fire.”

The Patons also had a problem with the “pack out” company hired to store their personnel possessions while the condo was being repaired. The company’s van, along with all of the Patons’ clothes, small appliances and other belongings was stolen from the pack out company’s parking lot. While the truck was later recovered, its contents were gone and never found. The Patons lost everything.

Why You Need Condo Insurance

Tom Paton, homeowner:

“We learned a few valuable lessons for the future,” said Mr. Paton. “First, whenever you hire a company to do a service, no matter how respected the company is, check their insurance.

Also, it is important to make sure that you have the right kinds of condominium insurance and enough of it to resolve any loss.

Finally, you should always be prepared with an up to date home inventory of your possessions and valuables. It took us months of hard work and research to figure out what we had owned, when we bought it, what we paid for it and what it would cost to replace it. People should do a complete home inventory at least once a year.”


Kim helped the Patons to prepare their case against the pack out company and related organization.

“This case was a nightmare for us until Kim Cary stepped in and helped us with the case,” said Mr. Paton. “Kim started by working with our personal insurance carrier. USAA was very helpful and settled for the full amount of our coverage. However, that coverage did not cover the full amount of our loss. Kim walked us through the process – showing us what we needed to document our case, how to research our losses, and explained what we had to do to recover the money for our damages from the pack out company and its insurance carriers. Eventually with our attorney, we were able to get an additional $27,000 from the pack out company’s insurance carrier.”

Click here for more information on Condominium Insurance.


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