EMPLOYEE BENEFITS

Firetrap

Problems recovering insurance money from fire damage.
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When a major fire damaged 20-year-old Bartizan, in Yonkers, N.Y., last July, cofounder Lew Hoff was predictably upset. But he didn't panic: the facility was fully covered, including high-premium insurance against business interruption.

When they saw water on the floor, holes in the roof, and machinery inundated, employees deemed swift recovery hopeless and went home. Indeed, the insurance company recommended shutting down the $9-million business for several months, says Hoff. But customers delayed are customers lost, he worried, so why stop work just because your insurance company suggests it?

Hoff and some helpers got out shovels and squeegees and went at the mess. They filled three dumpsters with debris. "We worked like dogs, 24 hours a day," he reports. "When people came back that Monday, the same ones who had been walking around in a trance on Friday agreed it didn't look hopeless anymore." Morale was so good that two weeks -- and $600,000 of company cash -- later, the plant was back in at least partial operation.

Were the monumental expenditures worth it? Not having seen a red cent from the insurer as of late last fall, Hoff thought not. For one thing, four months later he still hadn't been allowed to dispose of the containers of junk in the parking lot. "I told the insurance company I wanted to get rid of this stuff because it made the building look abandoned, and kids were vandalizing the place. It said, 'If you dispose of it, we take no responsibility, and you can't file a claim for it.' " Hoff now keeps a running record of his manufacturing equipment: make and model, performance capability, and replacement cost as quoted by vendors. If he'd had that information before the fire, he could have had the equipment's remains hauled away.

The insurer wouldn't pay for work stoppage, even though impatient customers placed orders elsewhere. Lost orders cost him another $600,000. "The insurance company argues we had no business interruption that it could see, and therefore it owes us nothing," fumes Hoff. "To this day I don't have my office back. I don't know what would have happened if I hadn't had the cash to pay for recovery. If this had happened six years ago, when I didn't, the business would have been interrupted but good." -- Robert A. Mamis

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Last updated: Feb 1, 1992




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