LI homeowner battles State Farm to rebuild his home after deadly fire

A State Farm spokesperson said they are reviewing the information surrounding Bruce Alber’s claim after News 12 brought it to their attention.

Rachel Yonkunas

Mar 7, 2024, 3:30 AM

Updated 42 days ago

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A Commack man lost his friend and his childhood home in a fire last fall. Now, he is battling his insurance company to cover the cost of repairs.
Bruce Alber’s home on Spinner Lane is just a shadow of what it used to be. He was cooking dinner on Oct. 3 when a fire broke out in the upstairs apartment. His 42-year-old tenant of 15 years died in the fire.
“I ran up and I started pounding on the door and got the mother out,” Alber recalled. “The son was in the back room and the door was jammed. It’s hard to talk about still.”
The cause of the deadly fire is still under investigation, according to the Huntington Town fire marshal.
Alber is now facing a battle with State Farm Insurance.
“It seems like almost a third of my house is not going to be paid for,” said Alber.
According to emails obtained by Team 12 Investigates, State Farm is using “new construction” pricing to estimate the costs of repairs to Alber’s fire-damaged home. Construction-related jobs are generally categorized into one of two groups: new construction and restoration or remodeling.
New construction claims generate lower payouts to policyholders than restoration or remodeling projects. These pricing standards are set by Xactimate—a widely used insurance claims estimating software used by insurance companies nationwide, including State Farm.
Alber’s public insurance adjuster, Evan Katz, said State Farm is shortchanging Alber around $60,000 by using new construction pricing to pay out his property claim.
“How is this new construction? The roof has to come off. You have interior damage. You have to replace all the siding,” said Katz, of Power Adjustment Group. “You have to retrofit windows, do plumbing, electric. You have to have bracing. You have to have shoring. This is not new construction.”
Team 12 Investigates reached out to David Vales, State Farm’s team manager for large loss fire claims in the New York metropolitan area who is handling Alber’s case. He did not return a request for comment.
A State Farm spokesperson said they are reviewing the information surrounding Alber’s claim after News 12 brought it to their attention.
“We appreciate you sharing this with us and have routed the information to the proper area for review,” said Justin Tomczak, a spokesperson for State Farm. “With any claim, State Farm seeks to provide customers all benefits to which they are entitled within the terms of the insurance policy. Each claim is handled individually based on the unique facts of the loss.”
Team 12 Investigates uncovered that Alber’s case is not unique. Multiple public insurance adjusters across Long Island said they have also handled claims where State Farm used lower, new construction pricing for projects that amounted to restoration or remodeling—such as house fires.
At least two class action lawsuits were recently filed against State Farm regarding this issue. They accused State Farm of using new construction pricing to underpay claims in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The lawsuits claimed State Farm netted millions of dollars in underpaid claims at the expense of homeowners like Bruce.
“It’s just a matter of will he have enough money at the end of the day to pay his builder,” said Katz.
Vales and another State Farm agent demanded Alber’s case go to appraisal to resolve the disagreement as to the amount of loss. This requires Alber to hire an independent appraiser to negotiate the price of repairs with State Farm’s appraiser.
Alber said appraisal will only cost him more time and money.
“I had a home, I was happy in my home, and now it's all up in the air,” Alber said.


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