• September 22, 2023

In shift, insurance company now says Wareham couple is covered for oil leak

The Proctors thought they would lose their house as the estimates for cleaning up the contamination, which include plans to jack the house off its foundation to excavate 10 feet below the basement floor — topped more than $185,000. Such cleanups are strictly enforced under state environmental laws.

Emmaline, 30, who is pregnant, and Brian, 24, have a 10-month-old girl. She is a paralegal who left work during the pandemic, and he is a full-time National Guardsman who works as a Blackhawk helicopter mechanic at the military base on Cape Cod.

They said they were shocked to learn their policy, which is 68 pages long, did not cover an oil leak, even though they had their home, including the tank, inspected before buying the Cape-style house for $275,000 in 2020.

A report written by the Proctors’ home inspector noted that corrosion in oil tanks often begins on the inside and is not detectable from the outside.

They said their insurance agent never discussed with them the option of buying special coverage for a possible oil leak. NBIC did not respond to a Globe email seeking comment.

NBIC reversed its earlier position on Thursday, saying in an e-mail to the Proctors’ lawyer that it will “immediately extend” coverage. NBIC also said it was reserving its right to make new evaluations as facts surrounding the leak “continue to develop.”

“We’re thrilled,” said Brian Proctor. “We’re hoping to get this quickly behind us so we can get on with the rest of our lives.”

The Proctors were featured in a page-one Globe column on Monday that highlighted how the vast majority of the estimated 650,000 homeowners who heat with oil in Massachusetts do not have specific oil leak coverage in their policies.

The column recounted the case of a Hopkinton man who testified before a legislative committee last year that he had spent more than $500,000 cleaning up oil that leaked from a tank in his house.

A bill that would make oil coverage in homeowners policies mandatory and automatic is pending before the Legislature, where it is opposed by the insurance industry.

Susan J. Crane, the Proctors’ attorney, said she made her case on behalf of the Proctors to NBIC on Wednesday.

“Neither the Proctors nor I ever imagined this [NBIC’s reversal] would be possible until yesterday, after I did a deep dive into their insurance documents and spoke with claims reps at the company,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Still, Crane cautioned, homeowners who heat with oil should obtain specific coverage for oil leaks — a “liquid fuel rider,” in insurance parlance. It usually costs under $100 a year.

The Proctor’s case “is an unusual outcome,” she said. “No one should count on getting coverage without a liquid fuel rider.”

She declined to discuss the specifics of the Proctors’ case.

Crane also urged the Legislature to pass the pending bill. “It’s critical,” she said.

A GoFundMe page set up by a Proctor family member shortly after the Jan. 7 leak raised almost $10,000. After publication of the Globe column, which included a link to the page, the fund swelled to almost $83,000.

The Proctors on Thursday stopped accepting donations in light of the NBIC’s new position, even though “we continue to pay legal fees and still may be facing significant uninsured costs,” they wrote on the GoFundMe page.

“When the cleanup is all done, if there are any remaining funds, they will be donated to charity. We are overwhelmed with love and gratitude,” they wrote.

It was signed by “Emmy, Brian, Aria & baby-on-the-way!”

Got a problem? Send your consumer issue to [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.