Exclusive: Insurance company refuses Long Island fire claim over pet pit bull

Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Exclusive: Insurance claim denied over pet pit bull
EMBED <>More Videos

Investigative reporter Jim Hoffer has the story of a Long Island woman who could have her insurance policy voided, all because of her dog.

EAST ROCKAWAY (WABC) -- A woman on Long Island is baffled over the denial of her insurance claim after a fire.

The company told her it didn't need to pay because she owns a dog!

It may make you take a second look at your policy.

Of all the absurd reasons to deny a fire claim, having a dog has to rank among the top. How can a dog start a fire?

That's exactly what a Long Island mother wants to know.

The insurance company says they were never told she owned a Pit Bull, and she says she was never asked.

When a fire in the laundry room gutted her East Rockaway home, Mary Grace O'Brien took comfort in knowing her $300,000 insurance policy would help her and her three children rebuild, or at least she thought. Three months after the fire she got a letter from Adirondack Insurance denying her fire claim because of Bella, the lovable family Pit Bull.

"They were looking for a reason not to pay the claim and as luck would have it I have this dog," said Mary Grace O'Brien, the homeowner.

The problem Mary Grace thinks began with a broker at Sidakas Insurance Agency in Queens who sold her the policy. She never saw nor filled out an application, only answered some questions on the phone. But this application was submitted by the broker and it asks if the homeowner has pets, to which someone answered "N" for no.

"They never asked me about pets, if they asked me if I had pets, I would have told them I had pets," O'Brien said.

So after the fire, she was stunned to hear Adirondack was denying her $300,000 claim because of Bella. In a letter, Adirondack informed her that because they discovered she had a Pit Bull, they would have to "void the policy" because Pit Bulls were on their list of prohibited dogs. She now believes the application claiming she had no pets was forged by someone at the broker's office who copied her signature from a document cancelling her old policy.

"This misrepresentation here was made by this office not by me. That's the problem," O'Brien said.

Mary Grace went undercover with an Eyewitness News producer to confront Andrew Sidakis. Even though he signed the application as her broker, he denies forging her name.

"There's no reason for anyone in this office to forge signatures. Anna, me, anyone else to forge signature. It doesn't make sense. Misrepresentation has intentional connotation that you're intentionally trying to deceive, that's not our practice," said Andrew Sidakis, a broker.

We took the signatures to a handwriting expert whose forensic analysis showed they are an identical match.

"They both overlay identical" (meaning?) "This is a mechanical fabrication what we easily call a cut and paste," said Dennis Ryan, of Applied Forensics.

"The document was filled out by someone here?" Eyewitness News asked.

"Would you like the name and number of a lawyer to contact?" Sidakis said.

When confronted with questions about the forged application, the Insurance broker referred Eyewitness News to his attorney.

"How would any document here be forged, could you explain that?" Eyewitness News asked.

"I'm not permitted to answer any questions for you, I'm sorry," Sidakis said.

For six months now, Mary Grace's charred home has been empty, that's six mortgage payments on home she can't live in nor rebuild even though she paid all her premiums. A lawsuit against the broker and Adirondack Insurance is her last hope.

"It all comes down to?" Eyewitness News asked.

"Money, well what about me? What about the fact I'm looking down the barrel to lose everything I worked for my whole life?" O'Brien said.

Mary Grace and her three kids are living with a friend. A lawsuit is her last hope to settle the matter.

The lesson here is when buying homeowner's insurance; make sure you see the application to check that the information in it is accurate.