When a Cape Cod woman shipped a valuable table across the country, she thought she was covered in the event of any damage.
Carol Hamblet Adams paid almost $5,000 to ship the table and a couple of other items to her daughter in Seattle last year, including an expensive, heavy, onyx table her late husband bought.
“The table is very special to me. It was in 1978 when Steve and I went to Mexico City,” said Hamblet Adams. “He found an onyx carved table that he absolutely loved...and we shipped it home from Mexico City. And it's been one of the most special pieces of furniture, especially since he's now gone.”
Hamblet Adams said she hired a local moving company, met with their move consultant and purchased extra care protection, declaring a $25,000 value for the table.
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When it was crated for the move, the packers documented cracking on the underside of it, but when it arrived in Seattle, the tabletop was damaged.
“I was totally shocked. The top, the resin on top was cracked in four large places, and then there was a fifth crack, and it was uneven on the top,” Hamblet Adams said. “I was just totally dumbfounded that this beautiful piece that I had paid to have shipped to Seattle would arrive in such an awful condition.”
She filed an insurance claim with the shipper, Allied Van Lines, but it was denied due to an exclusion in the contract called “inherent vice”.
“I never heard of that word before. I'm still confused about what it means,” she said.
The denial letter said that “onyx has a tendency to become more brittle over time and the damaged area of the table did not appear to have resulted from mishandling, but rather the overall breakdown of the piece itself and its inherent susceptibility to damages during any interstate relocation.”
“If you take out an insurance policy, I thought that entitles you to fix the table or to replace it,” said Hamblet Adams. “But they were telling me that it would have happened anyway and therefore I was not entitled to the insurance money.”
According to the International Risk Management Institute, “inherent vice” is an exclusion found in most property insurance policies eliminating coverage for loss caused by a quality in property that causes it to damage or destroy itself.
“Inherent vice is a common exclusion in an insurance policy… and basically it means that there's something about that piece of property that has an inherent defect or causes it to decompose,” says Rob Olson, Senior Research Analyst with IRMI. “This has been contested a lot in court cases. And really the decision is like what actually caused the loss? Was it inherent vice, some inherent defect within that property that caused it to deteriorate, or was there an outside external force?”
IRMI recommends consumers seek advice from their homeowner’s insurance agent prior to shipping anything important or valuable, and consider adding a floater policy for those items for broader coverage.
“Insurance policies and coverages are complicated, it is very difficult to commoditize these things and handle them in a quick transaction,” said Joel Appelbaum, chief content officer with IRMI. “It's important to involve your insurance agent to utilize them as a part of your risk management scheme”.
Have a consumer complaint? Reach out to the NBC10 Boston Responds team online or call 1-888-521-NEWS.
Hamlet Adams filed an appeal, but was denied again. The claims adjustor wrote there was no sign of impact to show the cracks in the epoxy of the table were due to any trauma, explaining that “the epoxy over time often becomes brittle and loses its elasticity. Cracks often occur when subject to a climatic change or change in location when lifting from either end. This appears to be an inherent vice”.
NBC10 Boston Responds reached out to Allied Van Lines about Carol’s case but the company did not respond.
Marathon Moving in Canton, the local agent of Allied who Carol hired for the move told us, “it is standard that items that have inherent defects not to be covered under valuation as damage sustained is not due to mishandling but due to the integrity of the item. Unfortunately, although Ms. Adams, Marathon Moving and Allied Van Lines all made every effort to ship the table in the safest way possible, the table could not withstand the transition.”
Hamlet Adams wishes someone had warned her about this scenario.
“I would have thought that the move consultant would have said to me...there may be a problem in having this shipped out to Seattle,” she said. “I would never have sent it if they had said it was going to get damaged or might get damaged.”
When you are moving items, read the contract terms and conditions carefully.
Ask a lot of questions about coverage options and how they differ. And ask for examples of what may not be covered.
If you feel like your insurance coverage was denied unfairly, you can file a complaint with the state Division of Insurance, which will investigate.