The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 28, 2012

Nearly one year later, woman wrestles with insurance company

— Like other survivors of the May 22 tornado, Teresa Newton rode out the storm in the closet of her house. When she emerged, she found the closet was about the only thing left at 2219 Wisconsin Ave.

A firefighter by trade, Newton instinctively knew what she had to do.

“She did search and rescue in Joplin in the hours after the tornado,’’ said her mother, Jan Finney, of Joplin. “She worked here for 12 to 16 hours a day for two weeks. That’s all she did for two weeks.’’

Finney, knowing her daughter would be unable to take care of her own affairs because she was helping with search and rescue, reported her daughter’s loss to the insurance company, Missouri Farm Bureau.

Said Finney: “She was out helping other people when she was a victim herself.’’

It would be the beginning of a second storm for Newton that has lasted nearly a year and is still unresolved.

Newton was paid $103,500 by the insurance company for her house, a claim she settled on, but she believes she should receive more than $77,000 for her contents. She has been battling Missouri Farm Bureau over her contents since the tornado.

“They have paid $61,607 for the contents. They still owe me $16,017. I want the rest of my money,’’ Newton said. “I want what I was paying for. I had them for 11 years. I did my part.’’

Newton has lodged a complaint against her insurance company with the Missouri Insurance Commission, contacted the Missouri Attorney General’s office for guidance, and last fall even hired an attorney to help her with her dispute, although she has not filed a lawsuit.

In a desperate move to help her daughter, Finney recently attended a dinner of Missouri Farm Bureau officials and managed to personally hand to a company vice president an envelope containing copies of records and letters that pertained to her daughter’s claim. Finney said she has not received a response.

Estil Fretwell, director of public affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau, said they have five cases related to the Joplin tornado that remain unresolved. The company had about 470 claims in Jasper and Newton counties stemming from the May 22 storm.

“I really can’t comment on any case that is pending or talk about the specifics of a problem,’’ he said. “We have tried to bend over backward to get these Joplin tornado claims settled, but sometimes there is a disagreement and it takes a little longer to get those resolved.’’

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