Latrobe Eagles sue insurance company

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The Fraternal Order of the Eagles in Latrobe has sued its insurance carrier in Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court, charging that the company failed to pay for storm damage to the Eagles' building.

Attorney John M. Hauser of Latrobe, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Eagles, said exterior damage to the four-story building at 215 Spring St. was the result of a severe windstorm on Nov. 17, 2013.

The suit maintains that the Eagles’ policy with its insurance carrier, Nova Casualty Co., covers damage from storms.

The storm caused “gusting wind to enter the elevator shaft of the building, creating a vacuum effect and causing the walls to bulge out, thereby rendering the building in an unsafe condition and necessitating removal and replacement of the brick cladding about the building,” the lawsuit states.

Mr. Hauser said the building, built in 1925, is stable and the interior is usable. The building is constructed of cement block walls and steel with a veneer of bricks.

“The veneer ballooned,” he said, “when wind came in the front door and went up the elevator shaft to the top of the building. It’s the exterior part of the walls that are unstable.”

A contractor, Robert Raimondo of Greensburg, has estimated that the bricks on the upper floors have pulled away up to 18 inches on the right side of the building, looking at it from Spring Street.

The damage to the building forced the closure of the 200 block of Spring Street and temporarily closed an exit of the city parking garage. The street was recently reopened.

Scaffolding has been erected on the outside of the Eagles building to protect passersby and on a section of the back storage room of the one-story NAPA Auto Parts, adjacent to the Eagles building.

Temporary steel cables have been installed on some of the interior upper floors to keep the brick facade from falling.

In addition, workers shored up a back storage area of the auto parts store with scaffolding and steel beams.

The Eagles filed a claim for damage with the group's insurance carrier in November, shortly after the damage was discovered. But York Risk Services Group Inc., acting as the insurance company's third-party administrator, denied the claim in December, according to the lawsuit.

The York representative inspected the building but “found no evidence of wind or storm damage to the roof or building envelope,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $30,000 for breach of contract as well as punitive damages and court costs.

Ron Borchardt of York Risk Services Group said he had no comment on the lawsuit. A spokesman for Nova Casualty Co. could not be reached.

According to Mr. Hauser, The Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie No. 01188 paid $21,000 to Nova Casualty Co. for the one-year term of the policy from July 2013 through July 2014.

The lawsuit also included an engineering report from DTE Consulting of Gibsonia, including photographs, storm and wind data, and recommendations for repairs following a January inspection.

The engineer’s report said the outer brick wall damage “does not appear to be normal wear and tear; even though the building is 88 years old, it is well maintained from the outside."

“There has to be a large bursting force inside pushing the wall outwards,” the report concluded. “In the middle of November 2013, a severe windstorm passed through Western Pennsylvania. There was a FE4 tornado in Illinois and the remnant of that tornado hit Western Pennsylvania. We believe this windstorm created a gust type suction in the elevator shaft of the building thus pushing the walls outward."

The engineering report recommended demolishing the wall facing the NAPA store and constructing a new one.

The Eagles’ lawsuit claims that on several occasions since its initial insurance denial, York Risk Services Group has asked the Eagles to delay litigation.

It says that Ron Borchardt of York Risk Services Group requested that a lawsuit be delayed so that the claims company could further examine the building and re-evaluate coverage.

A representative reinspected the property in February. However, the lawsuit says, the company did not fulfill its promise for a prompt reply regarding the coverage of the loss.

According to the lawsuit, the defendant has not given any reasonable explanation of an alternative cause of the building damage.

"It is disappointing that now, when the club needs the protections that they purchased under their policy, Nova has refused to make timely payment on this claim,”  Mr. Hauser said.

"We remain hopeful that Nova will do the right thing and properly and promptly provide coverage for this loss,” he said. "If Nova does not provide coverage for this loss, the club is steadfast in its resolve to litigate this claim. We believe, and our engineer has told us, that this damage is the result of wind, and wind damage is a covered loss under the policy."

Debra Duncan, freelance writer:

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