Stuck outside U.S. during pandemic, burst pipe floods suburban home, and Allstate won’t pay
That’s about the size of the very big problem facing Betsy and Floyd Rogers, who live near Glen Ellyn but got stranded in South Africa while visiting their daughter and only grandchild.
The COVID-19 pandemic has messed with people’s lives in countless ways, but I hadn’t heard anything quite like the travails of Floyd and Betsy Rogers.
It’s a complicated story, so settle in.
The Rogerses are retirees.
He’s 78 and used to work at IBM before retiring early to help his brother operate a now-defunct garden center. She’s 79 and went back to school for her Ph.D. after her daughters went away to college, then worked for a time as a consultant retraining industrial workers.
The Rogerses have lived since 1975 in a two-story frame home near Glen Ellyn where they raised two daughters.
Younger daughter Becky Ackermann is a paleoanthropologist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, where she lives with her husband Kurt and their 11-year-old son, the Rogerses’ only grandchild. Their older daughter died of a blood clot in 2002.
Like many people their age with their only surviving child and grandchild far, far away, the suburban couple make annual visits to their daughter’s family in Cape Town, over time gradually extending their stays to months at a stretch.
That’s where they were in February 2020, scheduled to return that April, when Betsy Rogers broke her pelvis, requiring a long, difficult rehabilitation during which she could not be on an airplane.
That meant they were still in South Africa when the pandemic struck.
There were no flights back to the U.S. for a while. By the time there were, it wasn’t really safe to fly from a COVID standpoint, so they settled in for Betsy to recuperate.
That’s why the couple was still in South Africa this past Jan. 22 when they were informed a DuPage County sheriff’s deputy had spotted water running down their driveway. A cracked pipe in an upstairs bathroom had flooded the house, destroying much of the interior and furnishings: 213,000 gallons escaped, according to the water bill they later received.
All very sad, but that’s why people have homeowners’ insurance. Right?
That’s what the Rogerses were thinking. But Allstate denied their claim, citing an exception in their policy for plumbing that freezes while a building is vacant or unoccupied “unless you have used reasonable care” to maintain the heat or shut off the water supply and drain the system.
The Rogerses believed they had used reasonable care. They’d dialed down their thermostat to 55 and had a neighbor come by regularly to collect the mail and water the plants. For the convenience of the housesitter, they hadn’t shut off the water. They definitely hadn’t abandoned the home.
The Rogerses aren’t even convinced that the pipe, located in an interior wall, froze. Outdoor temperatures were in the teens in the days before the discovery of the burst pipe, not the subzero temps generally associated with such damage. The couple’s tropical plants were fine afterward, another indication the house hadn’t lost heat.
The Rogerses had been Allstate customers as long as they’d lived in the house and remember making only one claim: when kids egged the house while Becky was in high school.
But the insurance company isn’t budging.
In a written statement, they told me: “Allstate protects its customers, with homeowners and renters rating us among the highest in customer satisfaction in the insurance industry. We resolved the claim according to the policy and encourage homeowners to learn more about insurance coverage for water damage.”
Floyd Rogers said he’s been billed $100,000 for cleanup and demolition of the house’s interior. He’s expecting it to cost another $150,000 to put it back together — not including furniture. They estimate the cost is close to half the home’s value.
The Rogerses say they aren’t wealthy. Like most people, their home is a significant portion of their savings. They’ve hired a contractor — and a lawyer.
Despite their age, the couple can’t get vaccinated yet in South Africa, where shots so far are available only for essential workers. They don’t see the wisdom of getting on a plane until they’re vaccinated.
Besides, flights are limited because few places are eager to accept travelers from South Africa. Perhaps you’ve heard of the South African variant?
If they overcome those obstacles, they don’t have a home to return to. And the insurance company won’t put them up in temporary housing.
So to recap: broken pelvis, stranded in South Africa by pandemic, broken pipe floods house, insurance won’t pay, can’t get vaccinated, still stuck in South Africa by pandemic, with an uninhabitable home to which to return.
You can understand why they’re feeling frustrated and helpless.
“It’s less an insurance story than it is a story about power and inequality and how that manifests itself in this really complicated space that we’re living in,” says daughter Becky, the paleoanthropologist.
All I know is that an elderly couple is going through a tough time and could use a hand from the good hands people.