Nearly a year after a tornado tore through suburban Chicago, some homeowners told NBC 5 they are still in the eye of the storm with their insurance companies for repairs.
It’s been a turbulent year for residents of Chicago’s southwestern suburbs, as some homeowners from Naperville to Willow Springs are still putting their lives back together nearly a year after an EF-3 tornado hit the area.
The disastrous tornado damaged hundreds of homes and downed thousands of trees on June 20, 2021. the National Weather Service foundleaving a mess behind.
As a consequence, there were stories of neighbors helping neighbors, even helping in the reconstruction process.
However, what came next, for some, was an even bigger whirlwind to face: a fight with their insurance company over what would be covered and what they would have to pay out of pocket.
That struggle has gone on for months, many homeowners told NBC 5 Responds, leaving them feeling as battered and bruised as their homes after the storm.
However, many homeowners have faced resistance and joined forces, helping to inform one another with each individual insurance skirmish.
As neighbors shared their experiences and anecdotes spread through these communities, Woodridge Mayor Gina Cunningham took to NBC 5 Responds in March when she said she wasn’t sure what to do.
“After listening to and working with so many affected neighbors and struggling to get the job started or completed properly, it was important for us to try to help,” Cunningham said.
NBC 5 sent an informal survey to homeowners in this region to find out what problems exist, and received responses from dozens of homeowners who said they are still fighting with their insurance company for repairs.
Consumer advocates believe that the future will show that these types of situations, arising from natural disasters, are no longer rare occurrences. Rather, they are slowly becoming the norm.
“Let’s name the elephant in the room: Climate change is obviously causing a lot more disasters,” said Valerie Brown, executive director of the nonprofit United Policyholders.
“Many more people are affected by disasters,” Brown said, “and that opened up a Pandora’s box of experiences that only a percentage of people have had in the past.”
Reconstruction of houses near Bruce Lake Park
It all goes back to the night of Father’s Day 2021, just before midnight.
Neighbors along Bruce Lake Park in Downers Grove said that when the winds picked up and the rain came down hard, they turned to their phones for the latest forecast.
“I was watching Brant Miller with the weather when the sirens went off,” Sandra Wilhoit said, adding that she was home alone at the time with her husband out of town.
“Not even a minute later, that’s when the tornado hit,” said Joe Cervantes, who lives across from Sandra’s home in Bruce Lake.
Joe was home with his wife and three daughters when the tornado passed.
Joe’s neighbor, Alana Radwan, also remembers the night, running into her basement with her dog.
“I heard significant noises, glass breaking,” Alana said.
Walking up the stairs from her basement, Alana said she could hear someone banging on the front door. It was Joe: a good neighbor who took care of her.
Sandra also said that an hour after the storm passed, more than a hundred volunteers from her neighborhood came to her aid: gestures she will never forget.
Memories of Father’s Day night 2021 still lurk in the neighborhood, but Alana, Sandra and Joe said they were thankful to be okay and reassured that their homeowners insurance through State Farm would fix things.
“I didn’t think anything of it,” Joe said when he finally went to sleep that night. “I thought he would just take care of it, so I didn’t stress about it. No one was physically injured. Everything can be repaired.”
Sandra, Alana and Joe said they all pay their monthly or yearly premiums on time, for full coverage.
But nearly a year after the tornado, while other houses on his street now appear to be back to normal, some of their repairs are still in the works.
Homeowners blame that on their insurance company: State Farm.
“My battle is still the ceiling,” said Sandra.
“They [State Farm] Look at it from the point of view of ‘Well, we’ll give you $68 to fix the front door,'” explains Alana Radwan, “I can’t even get someone in my house to look at it for $68.”
Among their complaints: Low estimates on materials. Claims denied, attributed to lack of maintenance on their part, rather than a storm, the owners told NBC 5.
Alana and Joe said State Farm went so far as to say their homes were not in the path of the 2021 tornado.
“They said, ‘Oh, the wind wasn’t above a certain level, so we’re not going to cover any of this,’” Joe Cervantes said.
Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show that all three houses were within the tornado’s damage path.
But Alana feels that the discussion is beside the point.
“It’s a delayed process,” Alana said. “They think you’ll eventually give in and just do the repairs yourself because you have to.”
Other owners have also filed complaints.
NBC 5 shared an informal survey with homeowners affected by the 2021 tornado. Homeowners who received the survey had previously been in contact with city officials in the area, as well as nonprofit organizations focused on recovery efforts.
28 homeowners completed the survey from April 1 to May 18, indicating a variety of complaints about insurance claims that are still being processed nearly a year later.
Half of the respondents shared complaints about State Farm.
Among those surveyed, homeowners expressed a “very stressful situation” and a difficult process to prove that the damages suffered should have been covered or were related to the tornado.
“[State Farm] is denying many of the claims, saying we cannot prove the damage was due to the tornado and not wear and tear over time,” a Naperville homeowner wrote.
Another Naperville homeowner said, “State Farm’s repair cost database is seriously out of date. It does not reflect the current market environment.”
“The public needs to know the difficulties that State Farm is causing,” one owner, who lives in unincorporated DuPage County, between Darien and Woodridge, told NBC 5.
Was your home damaged by the June 20, 2021 tornado? Still waiting for an insurance claim for repairs? If so, NBC 5 Responds would like to hear about your experience. To complete our survey, Click here.
Some homeowners have also turned to state regulators with concerns.
Records obtained by NBC 5 show that ten complaints were filed with the Illinois Department of Insurance about State Farm’s handling of claims related to the 2021 tornado.
Only two complaints resulted in settlements, while a DOI spokesperson confirmed that the others dealt with matters outside the agency’s authority.
In response to the survey results and complaints from the Department of Insurance, a State Farm spokesperson noted that it is the largest “homeowners insurer” in Illinois.
State Farm said it “responded to more than 4,200 claims” related to last year’s tornado, and so far the insurer has paid $49 million for customer claims in the region.
The insurer did not discuss details about the specific cases NBC 5 asked about, but said it has been in regular communication with customers.
“Structural damage claims may include consultations with engineers and experts to help determine the full extent of the damage and help define appropriate repairs,” a spokesperson said.
“When new information is shared with us, even after payment has been made, we evaluate the new information,” State Farm said. “If there is a significant gap between the time the claim occurred and the time the new information is shared with us, the claims handling process may be extended.”
Near Bruce Lake, Sandra and Keith Wilhoit said that after NBC 5 contacted State Farm, the insurer said it would send an engineer to reassess the damage, including the couple’s roof.
Alana and Joe told NBC 5 that they haven’t heard from State Farm in some time.
For homeowners affected by a tornado, there are resources available to help.
United Policyholders is a national nonprofit organization that advocates for consumers of all types of insurance. The organization has a list of resources for victims of tornadoes and other natural disasters.
For more information on those United Policyholders resources, Click here.
These neighbors hope their stories can help others as storm season approaches.
“It’s incredibly devastating,” Sandra said. “To think that as a consumer you have bought, I will call it a good product, to protect you. And then when you need the protection, you find out it’s not there.”