Need your advice/wisdom

cathruggSeptember 23, 2011

Hi Everyone,

I am looking for help and guidance for my retired parents who aren't sure what to do next.

I'll give the shortened (!!) story and then can add more if necessary.

They own their own home (over 30 years, stil have a small mortgage) and due to some financial issues, they sought help from a local town assistance program to get a new heating system installed. It's some kind of subsidy program that does not require repayment if they live in the house for so many more years (i.e. if they sell the house, the "loan" becomes due). They've been having issues here and there with the heating system for years so it was time to replace and this "loan" was a blessing.

Fast forward to the removal/installation of the heating system. A company is hired via the town assistance program to do the project (it's not their regular oil delivery/maintenance company). The old tank is removed from the cellar and the new tank installed. The new company (installers) says they need a small oil delivery to the tank so it can be hooked up to the not-yet-installed heating system (it was July so there was no need for a scheduled delivery).

During all of this, my dad unexpectly ends up in the emergency room (intensive care, knocking on death's door) so things are put on hold for about a week and a half (it was nothing short of a miracle that he recovered). He gets moved to rehab and then can make phone calls etc to get the project back on track. He calls the installer oil company and confirms with them that he should have 100 gallons delivered and they say yes. He calls his "regular" oil delivery company and they bring 100 gallons. All is right on schedule.

My mother gets home from visiting my dad and as soon as she pulls in the driveway, the smell of oil is VERY apparent. She goes to the cellar and there is the strongest smell of oil ever.

Guess what. The installing company forgot to put the plug in the tank after setting it up, so the oil came in and poured out into the ground. It then (rightfully so)turns into a big whole to-do with the EPA and their trucks out a couple days later testing/digging/removing the contaminated dirt from the basement and surrounding areas.

Now the insurance companies are all fighting about who's fault it is and no one is taking responsibility as its about $100k for this clean-up. There were conference calls between the 2 oil companies, the town and my parents. (My opinion is the oil delivery company shouldn't even be involved, they were hired to make a delivery and they did. There would be no reason for them to know/inspect the new tank, they just literally deliver the oil and leave.)

My parents got a call today from their personal insurance company saying they were rejecting the claim and my dad would get paperwork in the mail.

The town agency acknowledges that they hired the company who did the work (i.e. my parents didn't have a contract with the installer, the town does) but since this never happened before, he (the town guy) doesn't know what to say/do except "sorry" pretty much. (I could scream hearing that.)

My dad has a call into the Attorney General's office looking for advice but of course on a Friday afternoon, no one is going to call him back.

He spoke with an attorney but they want $2500 up front and then $275 an hour. If my parents had that kind of money, they wouldn't have needed the town agency's help!

My heart breaks for them as now they have no furnace (and can't until the EPA gives them the go-ahead), my dad is still recuperating from his hospital/rehab (a month total away from home) and this black cloud of $100k bill coming in the mail.

I live out of state so I can't just stop by the town to get info to try to help them but I will go there if necessary.

Any ideas on what I can do to advise them and/or do to steer them in the right direction?

Thank you in advance. I apologize for not being so short as promised. You all are such a wealth of information and I trust you like I know you. :o)


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Get a lawyer!? It sounds like there are too many opinions and parties who are not willing to stand up to the issue (your parents health and welfare) until someone forces a hand.
Thankfully, you are there to look after your folks and their needs.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2011 at 8:20PM
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You have to have a lawyer. A similar type of situation occurred in my town. Homeowners going through the city assistance program to have work done on their home, work resulted in cracked foundation. The city is offering to stabilize the wall, but the homeowners want more extensive repairs. They've been fighting about it for months.

And, just because the insurance company rejected it on the first go-round, that doesn't mean they're still not responsible. They could hope your parents will just go away.

What a trajic situation, but how wonderful your dad is still with you.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2011 at 8:37PM
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1) Insurance companies always try not to pay. Go to the State Insurance Board and file a complaint now. Many times the form is online, and insurance companies who won't give you the time of day will sit up and take notice of the insurance board.

2) They need an attorney. When I was in law school, the school ran a legal clinic giving sliding scale advice. There are many such low cost clinics, and a diligent internet search and maybe some phone calls can help. If friends/family know of a good attorney he/she may suggest places that can help.

My heart goes out to your family.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2011 at 8:49PM
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There should be some type of elder care/ elderly assistance attorneys in your area. Something like this:

    Bookmark   September 23, 2011 at 9:20PM
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The way it looks to me is that your parents insurance company is stepping out because it was not your parents claim against their HOI. The liability would seem to lie with the installation company, but I'd also suspect there is liability with the delivery service. I believe that they should take all precaution to ensure safe delivery.

I suspect the EPA will be the one you will want to deal with (if you don't hire an attorney first). They're the regulatory agency that is requiring the clean up and they might be able to decipher the responsible party. In no way would I expect your parents to be liable for any of this, particularly since they didn't enter into the sales contract, the local government did.

However, I'm not an attorney, and I really would suggest checking with other law firms. But make the first contact with EPA first. I'm just concerned about a heat system for your parents should the weather take a change before the whole mess can be rectified. I would think that there should be compensation to your parents for that, too.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2011 at 9:23PM
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Thank you all for your replies so far!

I guess I was a bit long winded as I felt so bad for my dad after talking to him tonight.

I'm going to do some research and see if I can find a low cost attorney to refer them too. I wish I could take the cost on for them but we all have our own problems. :o(

I am so thankful for my dad being with us still (he's only 61!) and I would literally die if this stress ended up killing him, ya know? I know, I'm very dramatic! But saying my "goodbyes" to my dad was one of the scariest things I've been through and now we all have a 2nd chance to make it all a wonderful "happily ever after".

And I knew I could turn to you all.

Thank you so much.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2011 at 9:24PM
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Oops sorry Pesky, I think we were typing at the same time.

Thank you for all you wrote. I agree, their homeowner's insurance wouldn't be the one to pay but they had to be notified I guess because of the whole situation. (Someone also said their homeowner's insurance might pay out and sue but it seems to not be going that way.) And the EPA was notified immediately (I'm not sure if my mom or the oil delivery company called the fire department as required as it's a scary thing to come home to!). The EPA handles all of the haz-mat stuff and I am sure they don't care (nor decide) who pays for the clean up, it just has to be done (and is already) in accordance with the clean up laws.

I also agree with the new heating system getting installed. They've had a few mornings in the 40s already and New England falls can be CHILLY!

I'll also check with AARP, thank you beagles.

I should have thought of all this stuff already but I have fuzzy brain tonight.

Thank you, thank you.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2011 at 9:54PM
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Contact their local newspaper.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2011 at 9:55PM
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Have your parent's been with their insurance company for any length of time? Even if they are new with the company, I think they should be standing behind their insured and then subrogate with the installation company and/or the assistance program. What a mess - your poor parents! You're not being dramatic - this IS stressful and your dad does not need this!

    Bookmark   September 23, 2011 at 10:12PM
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Suero, you are right. I already told my dad we'll call the local tv station (they have an "investigative reporter" feature that will intervene and try to help). My parents are very private people so I suggested it to him tonight and then will bring it up again. I agree, the news will help.

DLM, 30 years with no claim (knock on wood) ever!!!

Thank you for validating my "drama". This board is always such a help to me, even when I am not an active participant. I do read every day and talk about you all like I know you. I just sometimes don't feel like I have enough to contribute.

All of your responses have each been helpful to me. Thank you to each of you. :o)

    Bookmark   September 23, 2011 at 11:29PM
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I have absolutely no advice to offer, but just wanted to offer my condolences. Your dad's health is already compromised, and now he has to suffer all this stress.... my heart goes out to all of you.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2011 at 12:05AM
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The insurance company at risk here is the one that insured the contractor which installed the tank. And I think it's unlikely that they were performing work on behalf of a municipality without having liability insurance particularly as the work was being done, on behalf of a town agency, in private homes. In my experience as a local affairs reporter, most towns' insurance carriers are pretty aggressive about requiring proof of liability insurance as a condition of awarding a contract for work on their behalf. Towns are always getting sued, so you can be sure they have insurance, and in turn, their insurance carriers are tough-minded in order to protect the interests of the public coffers.

I think it likely your parents will have to sue the contractor and the town agency that ordered the work to get the EPA remediation claim settled. Your parent's mortgage holder might be interested in getting involved, too, since there will probably be a lien against the title until the claim is settled. They may even want to take up the claim as a plaintiff, since the spill and any resulting lien damages their colateral.

Extra stress for your parents, but it's not as if your parents did anything wrong, just an annoying hassle for them. Your parents' legal costs would probably be covered in the settlement in the end.

A key point everyone will argue over would be whether your father had a responsibility to check the tank before ordering the oil delivery. Even if he had been at the house at the time, I doubt that the typical homeowner looks at the tank's clean-out fitting plug. And he did confirm with the installing company that the next step would be to have some oil in the tank in order to continue the installation.

The person who really screwed up is probably the luckless guy who set up the tank and left the jobsite leaving the clean-put plug un-installed. Big oops, there! Even if your Dad had ordered the oil from the installing company, it's not likely that the oil delivery man would have gone down to the basement and checked out the tank before starting the pump-in. And oil is often delivered when the homeowners are not on site, so your parents' absence at that moment means nothing.

If the EPA has certified the work, then there is no reason not to finalize the installation. Except that the original company may refuse to do so if they are being sued by the homeowner. So the town may have find another contractor. Or your parents may have to pay for the installation and tack those costs on to the lawsuit. They can't be expected to start the winter w/o a functioning heating system.

Meanwhile the clueless town guy from the agency who doesn't know what to do needs to have some papers served on him, which will wake him up. The town attorney will know what to do, but until a suit (or a stiff letter from your parernts' attorney or a notice of claim) is filed, he and everyone will just pass the buck.

Good luck! (I don't mean that in any sarcastic way. I think your parents are blameless, I truly wish them well, and continued full recovery for your Dad.)


    Bookmark   September 24, 2011 at 1:04AM
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Check to see if there is a Legal Aid Society in your area.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2011 at 2:45AM
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I haven't read all the replies yet, but they need to call another attorney. The retainer fee was outrageous!!

One thing I've learned over the years, attorney's are great with dealing with insurance companies..the back and forth is exhausting.

Nice attorneys will only charge by the hour, with first visits being free.

Too bad you can't call my dh, he does this stuff all the time.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2011 at 7:37AM
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Definitely need a lawyer. Claims against public entities, I believe that is what this would be as the heater was installed via a program offered by your parents' town, fall under a Title 59 (claims against public entities). Title 59 claims have all sorts of time restraints for reporting, etc. You should be able to get a free consultation with an attorney and then going forward, pay an hourly rate for services. Considering the extent of this damage and the EPA involvement, retaining an attorney would be my first move.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2011 at 8:30AM
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"He calls the installer oil company and confirms with them that he should have 100 gallons delivered and they say yes"....

Any chance your father has paperwork from the installer stating his job was complete and the tank was ready for delivery? That might make everthing easier all around.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2011 at 11:23AM
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Thank you again for all of the thoughtful and helpful replies.

I am going to talk to my dad about all these great suggestions and see what we can do.

As far as I know, there is no receipt/paperwork for the tank installation as the job was only "halfway" through (the job was to remove old oil tank and heating system and replace with new).

I do know that the installer was fired from the job by the town (not sure if fired from all jobs with the town or just my parents' house). A new installer has been hired and had the new heater delivered to my parents house, just hasn't started job yet.

You all have no idea how much your responses have helped calm me down. :o) I was panicky when I wrote the original posting!

    Bookmark   September 24, 2011 at 11:52PM
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You are right to call the local station with an investigative reporter. I had a problem, not nearly as serious as your parents, and one of my calls was to the consumer affairs reporter of the local radio station. I don't know whether it was my calls to various officials at the company or that reporter's call, but I was able to get satisfaction. Let your father know that at no time was my problem ever put on the air; this was all handled backstage, so to speak.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2011 at 12:01AM
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Even though someone else might be liable, I would question whether their insurance company has the right to deny their claim. Their insurance company would pay the claim and then would then go after the company (or their insurance company) who WAS liable - which might take a court to determine. After your folks receive a written denial, I would call their state Insurance Commissioner and file a complaint. Most insurance companies do NOT want the Insurance Commissioner involved.

Most every state has free legal services for people over 60, regardless of income, through contract awarded by the Area Agency on Aging and Legal Services Corporation. However, the services are very limited and might not cover this type of problem, but it is worth a call. While most Legal Aid's are prohibited from suing for damages, they might take a case where an insurance company is shirking their coverage. Click on this link and put in their zip code and select legal assistance from the list. Then put in their zip code again and you'll see what services are available. I linked to the first page because there are lots of resources available, and thought maybe some others might be interested in seeing.

Here is a link that might be useful: Finding Legal Assistance

    Bookmark   September 25, 2011 at 1:34AM
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thank goodness you're there to help them. It's just *despicable* when people, esp. the actual government, try to take advantage of elders and worm out from making them whole after an expensive mistake. Unforgivable. Would they want their parents/grandparents treated this way?

It will work out. You have great advice here--you just have to summon the energy to follow it, which is a challenge given that no one in your family should have to do that. Maybe recognition of your time and bother should be worked into the claim? Anyway,just wanted to let you know you have more supportive energy coming your way.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2011 at 1:44AM
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Wow...what a mess ! And to happen to your parents when health issues are already such a worry. I have absolutely no advice but I sure will send positive vibes your way in support of you and your family. I am so sorry this has happened. c

    Bookmark   September 25, 2011 at 2:36AM
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Hi Everyone,

Just wanted to post a quick follow-up as I appreciated every single response I got to this posting.

The advice and sympathy for our situation helped me focus on getting my act together to try and help my parents!

I don't want to get into too much detail yet but wanted to tell you my parents have a law firm who has taken on the case and said it's an excellent case. (Keep your fingers crossed please!)

Once it's all said and done, I will post the details and info we got from the attorney. I get paranoid about posting too many details while it's still in progress, esp. if anyone googles about oil claims lol. (Wicked paranoid.)

Just wanted to thank you all personally for the help.

p.s. I had to tell my parents I got the information from my "friends". They wouldn't understand that I "know" people online at Gardenweb who can help. :o)

    Bookmark   October 1, 2011 at 6:09PM
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