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‘Couldn’t breathe at all:’ Skunk dies under woman’s house, insurance denies claim for damages

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LITTLETON, Colo. — A skunk died under a Colorado woman’s home, and it forced the woman and her family to move out.

“I’ll never forget it. It was 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning and I woke up because my sheets suddenly smelled like skunk. You can’t get it out of anything,” said Tiffany Harris.

The odor forced Harris, her husband, two sons and a golden retriever to move out. Harris said it took weeks to uncover the culprit that no odor eater could mask.

“Once we got it finally pulled out, it was dead for four and-a-half weeks underneath my house up against the foundation,” Harris said.

Four and-a-half weeks of funk was trapped under her house, Harris said the giant skunk left its mark — all over her furniture, clothes and carpet. She said almost everything inside her house had to be thrown out or specially cleaned, at a premium price.

“Every item that’s in the house. Windows, carpet, everything has to have a special treatment to try and get the smell out and that’s not even guaranteed,” Harris explained.

The basement is where the odor was the strongest because of its proximity to where the skunk died.

“Literally, you’d come down here and you couldn’t breathe at all,” she said.

To make matters worse, Harris said her insurance, Safeco, has denied their claim and refused to pay for any of the $40,000 in damages.

“I feel like we’ve done everything — made payments on time, had complete coverage for everything and now, when I need them, they’re not here,” she said.

Harris showed KMGH the paperwork Safeco sent her when they denied her claim. In the document, Safeco insurance wrote it is denying covering her loss because “it has been determined a skunk is classified as a vermin” and there is “no coverage under the policy for damages caused by a vermin.”

“Vermin is a rodent or something and that’s not what a skunk is,” said Harris.

KMGH reached out to Safeco and a spokesperson sent an email indicating it is their policy not to “publicly discuss the details of our customers’ clients.” KMGH didn’t stop there. Reporter Jennifer Kovaleski went straight to Safeco’s office in Golden, Colorado to try and track down answers for Harris. Security at the office refused to let KMGH upstairs to speak with Safeco employees, but did contact someone working in the office. Kovaleski was informed through security that “no one here can answer the questions” and was given a number for a woman in Boston with public relations.

Kovaleski called the number, but no one answered. A short time later, the same Safeco spokesperson sent KMGH another email which said much of the same, except they addressed one question in particular Harris really wanted to know — why another homeowner who had the same problem with a different insurance company got their damages covered, when Harris didn’t.

“I don’t know the difference between me and the other family that just went through the same thing,” said Harris.

In the email, Safeco spokesman Glenn Greenberg wrote “we also cannot comment on another insurer’s coverage decision for what could hypothetically be a similar claim. Each claim is reviewed on its own merits, and in this situation, it was determined that insurance coverage is not available for this type of loss.”

“I’m feeling devastated, stressed out, just awful,” said Harris. “Everything we’ve spent 17 years since we built this house making it a home and now I feel like I’m losing most everything.”

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