A tale of two lava-wrecked homes — and two very different insurance policies

Updated: May. 2, 2019 at 12:36 PM HST
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PUNA (HawaiiNewsNow) - Howard Konanui has lived in Puna all his life.

“Puna was an easy place, a good place to raise a family, because we were taught to live off the land,” he said.

As Konanui grew older, he put into practice what he had learned from his kupuna. He eventually ended up owning two homes in Leilani Estates, on sprawling lots that sat adjacent to one another.

[Click here to see the full documentary, Pele’s Path: The Journey Home]

Then the eruption happened.

“Never in my lifetime I expected this to happen in my own backyard,” Konanui says.

The homes were spared by the lava flow; both of them still stand, the molten rock never nearing either structure.

Yet the damage caused by the eruptive event was considerable nonetheless. Neither home, Konanui says, was livable once the lava stopped flowing.

“Everything was done,” Konanui said. “The roofing, gutters, fixtures. Everything.”

One home was insured by the Hawaii Property Insurance Association, commonly known as HPIA. The other was insured by Lloyd's of London.

Shortly after making his claim with HPIA, the state-funded insurance carrier determined the home was a total loss and paid out its value in full, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

His experience with Lloyd's of London was much different.

"They just wanted to give me about $9,000 for my damages,” Konanui said. “That's all.”

Howard buckled down and hired Jeffery Foster, a Hawaii Island lawyer who is taking on many of these claims.

“(Residents) didn't think they would have to wait 60 days to get a denial of their claim,” Foster said. “I think It's just a real tragedy, when people are down and out and in need of the insurance they paid for, to be treated like second- and third-class citizens.”

Konanui and many others pursued legal action against Lloyd’s of London, not just for the value of their claims, but for the distresses they’ve suffered at the company’s hands in the midst of their emergency.

Some have already received financial payouts, but the situation, for many, is far from over.

Lloyd’s did not respond to Hawaii News Now’s request for comment on this story, but the carrier says it has paid out more than $80 million for homeowners claims.

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