On February 12, 2014, car enthusiasts experienced a heart-stopping moment: A massive sinkhole underneath the main spire of the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, swallowed eight historic sports cars.
No one was injured, but some of the cars were badly damaged. Fortunately, the museum chose Chubb as its insurer. What happened after filing the claim shows how Chubb’s attention to detail not only helped recover the cars but also protected the museum’s structural integrity.
Chubb adjuster Byron Smith, who was in Nashville, Tennessee, at the time, was notified the morning the claim was filed and responded quickly. “I was able to drop everything and drive up the road to Bowling Green, which was about 3 hours away. Very little information was known at the outset,” he said. “Are there other sinkholes on the property? Will the structure collapse?”
“As a Chubb adjuster, it’s our job to formulate a plan to put the facility back to pre-loss condition, and we have to gather a lot of information. Our initial contact with our insureds is where an important part of our claims service happens. We provide a plan to people who are under stress, giving them a measure of assurance and letting them know we’re on their side,” Smith said.
The National Corvette Museum claim was unusual, but its handling was not unique. Chubb’s focus on quality and attention to detail on the museum’s claim is a signature example of Chubb craftsmanship.
Recovering the cars
Arriving at the site only hours after the sinkhole opened, Smith quickly realized Chubb needed to call in expert resources. Geotechnical and structural engineers were brought in from as far away as Chicago.
“An important local resource on this claim was a nearby university. Bowling Green sits at the intersection of two karst systems, limestone formations that are prone to the underground erosion that causes sinkholes. The National Corvette Museum provided an excellent case study for the university’s engineering and geology students,” Smith explained. The university referred Chubb to an environmental health, safety and engineering firm in Memphis, Tennessee. Experts from the firm and the university conducted a microgravity survey using highly sensitive equipment that can detect cavities deep underground. The survey determined that other sinkholes were unlikely to open under the museum, but the bedrock was much deeper than initially thought.
It was not clear early on whether the cars in the museum sinkhole could be recovered. “During the first three days, we were discussing options to fill in the sinkhole, but we quickly took that off the board. We didn’t want to entomb the sports cars if there was any way to safely retrieve them. Luckily, experts determined that the cars could be lifted by cranes braced to the structure,” Smith said.
“Bringing the financial support to the National Corvette Museum was important, and so was Chubb’s ability to gather the right resources. The team had to move quickly to decide what to do because ambient air and the humidity levels in the sinkhole were changing, which could affect loose soils and clay,” Smith said. “If we had waited a month, the center spire might have collapsed and brought down the roof, which would have compromised the structure of the museum” – and made recovery of the cars impossible.
Even though the museum opened the next day, securing its future took time. With Chubb’s help, the National Corvette Museum built a floor over the sinkhole and turned it into an attraction for visitors to learn about the cars and the area’s geology. Visitor traffic increased as news of the sinkhole spread.
Chubb’s culture of craftsmanship and partnership with the museum made a big difference. “We’re not here to find ways to cut corners and minimize claim expense,” Smith said. “We’re here to uphold the promise in our policy. It’s just doing what’s right for our policyholders. My job is to put the customer’s hat on and see what needs to happen. We set our insureds’ expectations at the outset and we get people in place immediately to answer questions, but that doesn’t mean we have all the answers. When we bring the resources to bear, it takes a lot of stress off our insureds.”