Earthquake damage claims rarely paid by insurance companies

For a couple of native Oklahomans, Johnny and Janice Bryant have gotten pretty skilled at scoring the magnitude of local earthquakes.

“That was a 3, that was a 2.5,” said Johnny, standing in the living room of his Pawnee home.

The couple has lived in their house for 46 years, but the Pawnee home they carefully built crumbled when the record 5.8-magnitude earthquake hit last year. The epicenter was less than a mile away.

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All of the china in Janice’s kitchen cabinets crashed to the floor. The chimney caved in and the walls buckled.

“I’ve never been shook so much in my life. It just shook me and we all went down on the floor,” said Johnny.

“Mostly, we just stared at each other,” said Janice. “What just happened and where do we go from here?”

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The Bryants don’t have earthquake insurance, but even if they did they still might have had problems. Many insurance companies have been slow to pay. Only 15 percent of Oklahomans' insurance claims have been paid since 2010.

“Maybe as we're looking at those denials, that may not mean that there's not damage, it just may mean that it's not reached the level of the insurance company to make a payment,” said John Doak, Oklahoma insurance commissioner.

Earthquake Insurance Facts

  • 1,476 earthquake insurance claims have been filed since 2010
  • $4.5 million has been paid out
  • 250 cases remain open, some dating back to 2014 (16 %)
  • 924 cases have been denied (62 %)
  • 213 cases have been closed with payment (15 %)
  • 76 claims were below the deductible, dating back to 2010 (5 %)
  • 6 claims are being investigating, dating back to 2015 (<1 %)

Doak said most earthquake deductibles are too high to cover the day-to-day damage, but it’s up to people like the Bryants to figure it out.

“Most Americans, most Oklahomans never read any of their insurance policy,” said Doak.

Boxes are lined up along the walls in the Bryants' home. The two are moving to their barn.

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“It hurts to see it broken, it hurts to see all the cracks in the walls and the ceiling and the walls out,” said Janice.

They aren’t sure if they’ll tear down and build a new house or just fix the one they have. Johnny can’t get anyone to give him an estimate on repairs.

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“It was when the bad times come around, that's when you need each other and you realize that you need each other,” said Janice.

The foundation of their home might be cracked, but their real foundation is their 50 years of marriage -- it’s rock solid.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story reported that Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak said most earthquake premiums are too high to cover the day-to-day damage. Doak actually said most earthquake deductibles are too high to cover the day-to-day damage. This story has been been updated to reflect the correction.

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