News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Evans Creek Retreat sues insurer over wildfire coverage

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

A campground in Elkhorn destroyed during the 2020 wildfires has sued its insurance company and broker for more than $1 million, claiming the property was underinsured due to the defendants’ negligence. Evans Creek Retreat filed suit June 2 in Marion County Circuit Court against insurer Markel Insurance Company and broker Rhodes-Warden Insurance for $1,124,953. Plaintiff has requested a jury trial and the case is assigned to Judge Lindsay Partridge.

Evans Creek Retreat claims Markel and Rhodes-Warden failed in their obligations to accurately assess the value of the structures on camp property and are liable for actual replacement costs above the insured value.

Neither defendant was served with notice of the suit as of press time.

Evans Creek Retreat has been operating a recreational camp for more than 40 years, hosting summer camps, leadership camps, outdoor schools, private programs and other gatherings. The property is owned by Laura and Jerry Pierce, who are also the camp’s directors.

The camp has been insured by Markel for 38 years, and has employed Rhodes-Warden as a broker for 30 years. During this time, said the lawsuit, plaintiffs came to rely on defendants’ expert advice and defendants were well aware of the insurance needs of the camp.

During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns of 2020, Rhodes-Warden did not send an agent in-person to perform the annual property assessment for renewal of Evans Creek’s insurance policy, rather the Pierces were asked to provide information regarding the value of each building on site and its contents and function. The lawsuit said Laura Pierce spoke with a Rhodes-Warden agent in June of 2020 and said neither she nor her husband were trained in insurance evaluation, but the agent allegedly assured Pierce the information the camp provided would be used by Rhodes-Warden to give an appropriate valuation to underwriters with Markel.

When the Santiam Fire struck the area on Sept. 8, 2020, the campground was totally destroyed, including “beautiful trees and landscaping, along with buildings and the building contents that had been utilized by the campers for 40 years,” said the suit. After this disaster the Pierces learned the assessed value of the camp in their renewed insurance policy was unchanged from the previous year at $747,837, but actual costs of replacement have totaled more than $1.8 million.

Major differences between insured and actual costs include:

Office/Bunkhouse (Insured value: $129,772. Actual replacement cost: $489,200.)

Dining Hall (Insured value: $89,060. Actual replacement cost: $277,200.

Bunkhouse/Laundry Room (Insured value: $87,975. Actual replacement cost: $237,600.)

Kitchen/Infirmary (Insured value: $93,668. Actual replacement cost: $173,250.)

Shower House (Insured value: $51,750. Actual replacement cost: $97,920.)

Dining Pavillion (Insured value: $12,420. Actual replacement cost: $51,200.)

Evans Creek Retreat claims Markel and Rhodes-Warden were negligent in failing to accurately determine the replacement costs of the buildings and their contents, violating both the contract between Evans Creek Retreat and Markel, and state laws regulating the practice and sale of real estate insurance.

According to a fiscal impact study of the Santiam Fire published by Marion County in December 2021, it was not uncommon for fire survivors to encounter higher-than-expected rebuilding costs. This was attributed to supply-chain shortages amid the pandemic, with the cost per board foot of lumber increasing by 257 percent from February 2020 to May 2021.

The plaintiff has asked for a jury to award reasonable damages minus $747,837 received in an insurance payout received March 5, 2021. They are represented by Salem attorney Daniel R. Schanz.

According to Evans Creek’s website, the campground has since been rebuilt with the assistance of community supporters, donations and volunteers, including workers from faith-based groups throughout the country. A celebration is scheduled for June 26 at the camp.

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