On Your Side: Who's responsible for Acts of God? - NBC12.com - Richmond, VA News

On Your Side: Who's responsible for Acts of God?

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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

Who's responsible for making you whole again after an "Act of God" that causes a tree to fall during a storm and destroy your car?  The answer may be difficult to hear but, in many instances, you have no legal recourse to hold anyone liable.

The storm on May 22 took down part of a tree and tossed it on top of four cars outside a children's center in Richmond's Jackson Ward.  Everyone had auto insurance to cover repairs.  But, one car was totaled leaving a hardworking single mom with no transportation.

Salena Merris called 12 for help. "Trees, leaves, everything was just on the vehicles," she said. "I could hardly see mine. To come out and see my car, my heart fell."

When the student and single mom heard the words, "Act of God" she was taken aback again, shocked and surprised that the nonprofit children's center where she volunteers absolved itself from responsibility, as did the City of Richmond and Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which owns the building where the child center operates.

"The tree was on the city's property. It was the city's tree but it fell on RRHA's property," Merris said. "Everybody is being told the same, and there are three others, that it was an act of nature and there's nothing that could be done. I'm disappointed."

Three storm victims got their cars repaired through their own insurance company. But Merris's was totaled. Her insurance policy paid off the $5,000 car loan.  The debt is gone and so is her transportation. All she hears now is too bad, so sad. Salena can't scrape up enough for a down payment on another car.

"I don't have a back up system to transport myself from here and back to school and home and transport my son," she said. "It's a very devastating situation."

The building owner emailed a statement, which reads in part, "While personal property damage due to natural events is unfortunate, RRHA cannot be expected to utilize public funds to compensate victims of natural events for which the agency has no legal liability. Any disagreement of value of the vehicle is between the vehicle owner and the owner's insurer."

Merris would have to prove negligence that RRHA or the City was aware of an unsafe condition before the storm but did nothing. I spoke with the childcare center's director who says he advocated on the volunteer's behalf but it didn't change anything.

Merris says she filed a claim with the City but was forewarned that it will likely be denied.  If you can help the single mom call 345-1212 or email me, dwalker@nbc12.com.

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