Stuck in the mud 

Saturday evening two weeks ago, part of a mountain washed down onto the Sellhorn place in Clinton, just east of Rock Creek. Without warning, earth, rock and water destroyed the couple’s green lawn, a bocce ball court, and a landscaped border of rock, Dragon’s Blood and juniper bushes. When Mark Sellhorn called his insurance company to file the claim, he learned that his homeowner’s policy does not cover mudslides.

“I find that real hard to believe,” he says.

But it’s true. A mudslide exclusion, says Brad Porch (not Sellhorn’s agent), co-owner of Montana Central Insurance Agency, is buried deep in a typical homeowner’s policy.

“Unless you pull out a policy and look at it, you wouldn’t see [the exclusion],” says Porch. In fact Porch, who brokers insurance, originally had the impression that mudslides were included in some policies.

If agents are doing their jobs correctly, says State Farm’s Al Baczuk (also not Sellhorn’s agent), a homeowner should not be surprised to find out that coverage for mudslides isn’t written into policies.

The State Auditor’s Office regulates insurance companies in Montana. Homeowner’s policies, says Sharon Richetti, won’t cover certain “perils” including mudslides. And the contracts are non-negotiable.

“The company couldn’t add a rider for mudslides just for you,” says Richetti.

Homeowner’s policies are “take-it-or-leave-it” contracts, agrees SAO claim specialist Kim Hewitt.

For now, Sellhorn is stuck. The snow shovels in his yard are caked with dried mud. Three pairs of shoes on his front porch are covered with mud. He has over 3 feet of mud in his backyard. He and his attorney will alert the mountain’s owner, Stimson Lumber Company, which recently purchased the property from Plum Creek Timber Company, Inc., that the damage occurred. They hope the company will reimburse the Sellhorns.

Sellhorn, though, is afraid he and his wife will simply have to start over. And he’s afraid that more rain will bring more mud.

“We have no guarantee it’s not going to [slide] again,” he says.

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