Meeker County residents fight insurance companies over tornado damage

Tom Unterberger ran down the street hollering for others to take cover, as a tornado came barreling towards his Central Minnesota neighborhood.

He made it inside his home on Meeker Avenue in Watkins, but the air pressure from the tornado made it impossible for him to get through the basement door to join his family in their safe shelter.

Three months later, Unterberger is grateful he’s alive but still reeling from the tornado’s damage.

“I’ve lost ten pounds,” he said. “I can’t sleep if I start thinking about it.”

Unterberger’s anxiety isn’t from the tornado itself, but the damage it left behind.

“If you look down the wall, you can see it’s bowed,” he said standing in his basement. “There was a crack here in the sheet rock going across.”

The sheet rock has now been removed to reveal the foundation wall. A four to five foot crack stretches across the brick, and the wall bows inward.

His insurance company, Ram Mutual Insurance of Esko, Minnesota, sent an adjuster to the home followed by a structural engineer. After the second visit, Unterberger received the bad news.

“Your block wall isn’t covered, it was pre-existing,” Unterberger recalled the adjuster saying. 

Unterberger walks outside the house and points out a crack on the stucco. At the corner, he points to gaps in the dirt where he believes the wall has moved.

He says he paid out-of-pocket for a second opinion, bringing an outside structural engineer to the home. That engineer told him it’s common to have small cracks in brick, but this damage was nothing natural.

“I thought I had insurance replacement costs--anything gets wrecked we’ll replace it.”

Ram Insurance told Fox 9 it is aware of Unterberger’s complaints and they are looking into it.