Raleigh woman learns hard way to check your contractor’s insurance

North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – If you hire the wrong contractor, you could end up losing a lot of money if the contractor doesn’t have the proper kinds of insurance.

That’s what one Raleigh woman said happened to her.

Now, that company is out of business and she is paying for repairs to her home out of her own pocket.

A complaint about a Raleigh tree removal contractor resulted in an investigation by the state who arrested Cameron Huffman, the owner of Oak City Tree Service, for not having the required insurance.

Ashley Hutchinson hired the company In July to clear-cut her back and front yards. When the work was completed on July 7, a large pile of dirt was left by the rear patio leading to a walk-in basement.

Image provided to CBS 17 by Ashley Hutchinson

She said the contractor failed to return to remove the dirt pile despite repeated calls.

When heavy rains fell on Aug. 14, water pooled on the patio behind the dirt pile and flowed into the basement of her home.

“When it flooded in, the whole floor was covered in red clay and water 3 inches,” said Hutchinson.

Oak City Tree Service advertised it was fully insured, but Hutchinson claims that wasn’t the case.

“The insurance form he gave us in the beginning, we found out was only for workmen’s comp, no liability for his company,” she said.

Hutchinson provided CBS 17 with copies of two canceled checks totaling $20,000 she paid to the company.

The Google listing for Oak City Tree Service says it is now out of business, saying in a large orange banner that it is permanently closed.

Hutchinson filed a complaint with the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office and the State Department of Insurance, which issued an arrest warrant for Huffman.

He was arrested Sept. 17 on a felony charge of obtaining the $20,000 under false pretenses after advertising his company had full liability insurance.

Consumer Investigator Steve Sbraccia went looking for Huffman at addresses listed for his company and residence, leaving business cards with messages on the back asking him to contact CBS 17.

Huffman called saying on the advice of his attorney he would not do an interview and instead texted CBS 17 a statement which said in part:

“The client was very happy with our work” and “we’re very disappointed she mischaracterized our work.”

Sbraccia replied to that text saying Huffman made no mention of why he had no insurance and asked him to comment on that for the record.

He didn’t reply.

“I would never have had him do the tree work had I known he was not insured,” said Hutchinson.

As for the repairs, Hutchinson said it is all on her.

“We’re still $35,000 in the hole and not getting any compensation from him,” she said.

If you hire a contractor, there is no database you can check to see if they have insurance, so you have to do a lot of legwork on your own.

Before you sign a contract, the North Carolina Department of Insurance said you should ask the contractor for a copy of the liability insurance certificate.

Then, the Department said you should call the listed insurance company to check and make sure the coverage hasn’t lapsed.

It’s a lot of work on your part, but it will save you money in the end if your contractor doesn’t have the proper insurance.

In some cases, the damage created by an uninsured contractor might be covered, but it would depend on your insurance policy and the company’s determination of coverage.

Insurance Department spokesman Barry Smith said, “It’s important to look at the individual policy to see what types of perils are covered and what is excluded.”

The Department of Insurance has specialists who can help consumers better understand their policies.

Consumers may call 855-408-1212 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to speak to a consumer expert who can assist you.

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