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With Insurance Settlements Still In Limbo, Sandy Victims Turn to Legal Remedies

Survivors up and down the Shore are fighting with insurance companies, worried that their payouts won't be big enough to let them rebuild

Crews demolishing the remains of Jakeabob's Bay restaurant last March.  Nearly a year after the storm, owner Gigi Liaguno-Dorr is still fighting with her insurance company.
Crews demolishing the remains of Jakeabob's Bay restaurant last March. Nearly a year after the storm, owner Gigi Liaguno-Dorr is still fighting with her insurance company.

After Jakeabob’s Bay restaurant in Union Beach was completely destroyed during Sandy, owner Angelita Liaguno-Dorr -- known to everyone locally as “Gigi” -- considered it a small victory when she re-opened five months later, at a temporary location in a different part of town. But as time went on, she realized that things at the new place just weren’t the same.

“I still have people call, and they’ll ask, ‘Who’s playing on the tiki bar this evening? Is there a wait on the deck?’ They have no idea that the business was lost,” she says. Gigi tells them Jakeabob’s is now at a temporary location, and they inevitably ask if it’s still on the water, with the skyline of lower Manhattan in the distance, like at the old site. She tells them it isn’t, and then the people don’t come. “Those calls are difficult to answer,” she says. “It hurts.”

There’s another reason why business has been slow all summer. Gigi says many of her customers who lived in town left after the storm and still haven’t returned. And she thinks those who have are struggling to get back on their feet and can’t even begin to think about going out for dinner. All these factors combined have made things especially hard these last few months.

“We have to figure out the mortgage up on the [original] restaurant, we have taxes, we have sewer. I have my house bills. I have my mortgage there. Then we have our rent here,” she lists. “So I’ve had to do a lot of creative financing. I don’t know how much more creativity I have to pull out of my hat.”

With the first anniversary of Sandy quickly approaching, Gigi is one of many business owners and residents along the Jersey Shore who are still fighting with their insurance companies, unsure if they’ll ultimately get enough money to rebuild. People unhappy with their flood insurance settlements have just a few weeks left to file a proof of loss form to start the appeals process, and many homeowners’ policies in New Jersey place a one-year statute of limitations on filing lawsuits. After months of waiting, and with the clock ticking down, Gigi and many others have turned to the courts, seeking legal remedies for their problems.

The lease at Gigi’s temporary location -- which she calls “Jakeabob’s Off the Bay” -- runs through March, but she’s still trying to figure out what comes next. She estimates it would cost about $2 million dollars to rebuild at the old site, and if all went according to plan, most of that would be covered by a mix of aid money and insurance.

So far, she’s gotten nearly $500,000 -- the maximum payment from her flood insurance -- and the Small Business Administration approved her for a $170,000 low-interest loan. But her property insurer -- Lloyd’s of London -- has paid out less than $10,000 on an $850,000 policy.

“I was upset at first, and I thought, OK. So, ‘Breathe, Gig, just breathe,’” Gigi recalls. “I said, ‘We’re going to agree that that’s the damage that the wind did?’ ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Then come fix it. If you can fix it for $9,657.14, come fix it!’”

Lloyd’s says they can’t comment on specific cases, but they’ve told Gigi that since the storm surge caused the damage, her flood insurance is responsible. She contends that it was the wind that slammed water into the restaurant, collapsing the walls and caving in the roof, so her property insurance should kick in. To make matters worse, Gigi also has a $300,000 business interruption policy, but it’s linked to her property insurance, so until this dispute is resolved, she can’t access any of that money either.

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