Burst water pipe? Woman told to wait a week for plumber

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- If you've ever had a pipe suddenly burst under your kitchen sink, you know you need a plumber right away. But when it happened to a San Francisco woman, she was told she had to wait a week to get one.

"I said, but this is an emergency,'' said Elizabeth Rory, a grandmother who has lived in the same house for decades. "I thought my whole house was going to flood."

She said it was shocking enough when it first happened.

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"I was making my coffee when I felt something sticky under my feet,'' Rory recalled. "Then I saw the water coming out from under the sink and all over the floor. It was such a mess, the biggest mess you could ever want to see.''

She tried to shut off the water at the source and mop up the gathering water, then immediately called her home warranty company.

That's when everything slowed down.

"They told me they didn't have anybody to come out today and I would get a call back in one week.'' Rory said. "If I wait a week, the leaking would continue, it would ruin the wood, it would leak down into my wash room below. It would be worse damage.''

Rory says she purchased the policy at $500 per year from Fidelity National Home Warranty -- specifically to cover this kind of household disaster. But a representative from the company said Fidelity was so swamped helping wildfire victims, it didn't have enough technicians to help other customers. However, Fidelity did pre-authorize Rory to hire her own plumber -- and Fidelity would reimburse the cost.

"So I did,'' Rory said. "I went out and got three estimates. They were all very similar, one a little higher and one a little lower. I chose the one in the middle. He could come right away."
A plumber came immediately from San Rafael, replaced the pipes and garbage disposal, and charged $2,800.

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"He did an excellent job. No more leaks. My kitchen works.''

It all went smoothly -- until she filed her claim with Fidelity for that reimbursement. The company said it would not cover even half of what she paid.

"The man told me they would only pay me $1,144 when I paid 2,884 dollars and nine cents,'' she said. "I said why? When you pre-authorized me to spend my money that I need to pay my bills the first of the month."

She now was out of pocket more than $1,000 to fix a problem the warranty was supposed to cover.

"They're supposed to get me a plumber and they couldn't do it and now they're telling me I have to use my money to pay for it,'' she said. "That's why I got the insurance in the first place."

She pays $500 a year for the policy but instead of saving money, Rory said, it seemed like just an extra expense.

"First you have the burden of the premium, then you have to prove you have a problem that's covered under the policy and then the burden of trying to get them to pay the claim,'' she says with a tired sigh.

Rory pointed to the pre-authorization letter she had received from Fidelity giving her permission to hire her own plumber. The authorization didn't specify how much she could spend, saying only that Fidelity would pay the "Standard Typical Costs" in her area for the approved repairs or replacements.

"But I did try to protect the insurance company and not overcharge,'' she said. That's why she got the three estimates -- and they were all within a few dollars of each other.

She contacted 7 On Your Side and we reached out to Fidelity. The company declined to discuss the case citing privacy rules. It also did not explain exactly how it determines a fair price for pre-authorized work.

However, Fidelity said: "The claim has been resolved to Ms. Rory's satisfaction."

And it was.

"They gave me my entire reimbursement,'' Rory said with a huge grin, holding up a check for $2,884.09. For someone on a fixed income, it provided badly needed relief. She could now pay her other bills.

"I'm a senior and I know what it means to be out here and feeling all alone,'' she said. "But then knowing that we have a local TV station, Channel 7 On Your Side, gives you some peace of mind. Thank you for being there for all of us."

Click here for a look at more stories by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
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