COLORADO SPRINGS — Southern Colorado is not immune to destructive wind storms. Recent date shows we get them about every two years in Colorado, but who is ultimately responsible if someone else's property causes damage to yours?
It's a question one Colorado Springs family asked News 5 Investigates to look into after a car corral in a King Soopers parking lot blew into their car while they were shopping.
Through its insurance company, King Soopers says they aren't responsible, but a local attorney says that's not always true.
On the morning of December 15, 2021, a major wind storm rolled through Colorado Springs. Our meteorologists clocked 92 mph wind gusts at the Colorado Springs Airport that day.
Lette de Mer says her family's Subaru was parked at the grocery store on Centennial and Filmore when a cart corral blew into their car.
"Staff was out there trying to move this thing off of our car and put it off to the side," Lette said. "One of the staff members took a picture."
She says King Soopers employees took pictures of the damage to the rear of the car. News 5 took our own video when we met in-person with Lette to discuss her case and view the damage.
"The rear hatch was damaged," she said. "It was hit pretty hard and pieces of the rear hatch were broken off.”
Lette says at first, King Soopers seemed willing to address the car's damage.
“The manager said he would check with insurance and call me back and we never got a call back," she said. "They haven’t returned any of our calls and then we contacted you.”
Sedgwick, the company handling claims on behalf of King Soopers (Kroger) sent Lette and her husband a denial letter.
"I would like to apologize for the unfortunate incident you experienced while shopping at 3250 Centennial Blvd," the letter said. "After careful review of the facts regarding your incident, our investigation has revealed no negligence on behalf of King Soopers and therefore we must deny your claim."
The letter then told Lette they hope she would remain as one of its "valued customers."
We presented what happened to attorney Stephen Longo. He is not associated with either party in this case, but News 5 sought a legal opinion on who may be responsible when cases like this occur.
“Anytime we go shopping at any store that is open and inviting us in, they are designated under Colorado law under the 'Premise of Liability Act’ as an invitee and under that standard, it means the business needs to protect us from known dangers or dangers that they should know about upon a reasonable inspection," Longo said.
Since this December wind storm was predicted days in advance by local meteorologists in Colorado, Longo said this fact may help the family if they appeal.
“If we’re talking about a cart corral that gets blown over by a wind storm because it’s not bolted down correctly, then they can still be found negligent."
Longo says one thing to consider in a case like this is whether employees should have known or could have known about this potential danger through routine maintenance sweeps/inspections and/or a review of safety policies and practices.
For more than a month, News 5 Investigates has made several attempts to talk about this case with King Soopers.
King Soopers Public Affairs Manager Rhonda Remy initially said spokesperson Jessica Trowbridge was looking into our inquiry and would call us back----that phone conversation occurred on March 18.
Since then, multiple phone calls to Remy and Trowbridge went unanswered along with multiple emails.
News 5 also made several unsuccessful attempts by phone and email to reach Kristal Howard, the director of media relations and corporate communications for The Kroger Company.
We also asked Howard via email whether she could let us know the company policy for ensuring equipment is properly secured prior to an anticipated wind storm or major weather event.
Howard did not respond.
"For 40 years I've been shopping there and now they don't want to take responsibility for their cart corral hitting our car and damaging it," Lette said. "If that had hit a person, it would have been tragic. Fortunately no one was it."
We also reached out directly to Sedgwick to see whether they could review the denial and offer the customer information on an appeal.
Lette says to-date, she has heard nothing back from Sedgwick.
At first, Judy Molnar, Vice President of Public Relations for Sedgwick asked KOAA 5 for the customer's information. We immediately provided it to Sedgwick.
Molner then replied by asking KOAA to follow back up with King Soopers.
Further correspondence seeking information via email, telephone, and text message went unanswered by Molnar.
Advice from Stephen Longo:
Longo says insurance companies are in the business of taking premiums and not paying out claims. He said it's not necessarily uncommon for an insurance company or business to immediately deny a claim.
If this occurs, he says you should look into filing an appeal.
Some agencies, like hospitals, are transparent about how to file an appeal. Sedgwick provided no such information in its denial to the customer on the appeals process.
Longo says you should also ask the insurance company the following questions:
- What facts did you review before coming to your conclusion or decision?
- What information or exemption in the insurance policy are you citing regarding my denial?
- What safety protocols and procedures were in place at the time of this incident?
- What media (pictures, video, statements) did you use to draw your conclusion?
If you're still not making headway, seeking mediation services might be the next step you consider before filing a civil lawsuit and letting the courts decide who is at fault."
This is a developing story and we'll update it as new information becomes available.
Have a story idea for News 5 Investigates? Email us: News5Investigates@KOAA.com