My friend Peter Saputo’s Tryon, NC cottage sprung a leak a few months ago. The water came into his basement eight feet below grade and, judging from the stains it left behind, crested at about six inches. That was enough to ruin walls, flooring, furniture and pretty much everything else not made of plastic.
Excavation revealed that the cinderblock foundation had never been sealed, so sealant and a membrane were applied and a proper drainage system installed. The parking and planting areas were reworked as well, so that water running downhill toward the house is diverted away from it.
Of course, Peter’s insurance company did what any insurance company would do when confronted with a $20,000 claim for repairs submitted by a 70-year-old man who’s neither wealthy nor well-connected. They denied it. “Act of God,” they said. No matter that man, not God, had built the house improperly to begin with and that damages resulting from faulty construction might have been the basis for a successful claim.
Insurance companies are in the business of selling policies, not making policy-holders whole. File a claim and, if the cost of paying it sufficiently exceeds the cost of denying it, the claim will be denied as a matter of course. So coverage, per se, isn’t what insurance companies sell at all.
The product they sell is the illusion of security, what their ads call “peace of mind.” And isn’t that what we really want, anyway? Isn’t it what we need? We buy policies that we know aren’t worth the paper they’re written on because we do, we do, we do believe in spooks. The good neighbor, the good hands, the umbrella … 21st century charms and potions … incantations … voodoo.
The witch doctor tells us we’re safe and healthy and all he asks in return is a pig and a bushel of corn. It’s an ancient business model. And if some of us fall ill, as some of us are bound to do despite the witch doctor’s assurances, we blame the pig. We have to. The alternative is too frightening to contemplate.