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RACISM IS SEEN IN DENIED INSURANCE CLAIM ROSWELL PARK NURSE BATTLES STATE FARM OVER CAR STOLEN AT WALDEN GALLERIA

Thousands of Western New Yorkers every year suffer the same inconvenience and anger that Datanya Betts felt when she walked out of the Walden Galleria on Sept. 27.

Her car had been stolen.

But few have suffered the same indignity that has eaten away at Miss Betts in the last six months.

After numerous delays, Miss Betts recently learned that her insurance company, State Farm Insurance, denied her claim for the Volvo 940 Turbo that she bought for $28,995 in 1992.

And nobody can tell her why.

"Is racism a basis for it, that I'm not 'allowed' to have a vehicle like this?" the African-American woman asked. "I don't know.

"Honestly, I really do believe that they thought I wouldn't pursue it (a complaint)."

Miss Betts, 29, a registered nurse at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, is pursuing it.

She and her attorney, Joseph M. Cox, plan to file complaints with the state Division of Human Rights and the New York State Insurance Department. They're also considering a lawsuit.

"I have no explanation for it," Cox said of State Farm's decision. "I don't even know why they think anything is amiss here. They haven't given her a specific reason why they denied her claim."

Cheektowaga police, who took the stolen-car report Sept. 27, said they have found no indication of any fraud or improper activity by Miss Betts.

A spokesman for State Farm, while refusing to discuss any details of its investigation, said the company is stand
ing by its decision.

That leaves Miss Betts without anything to show for her Volvo -- other than the $4,000 or so she still owes on it.

"How could they deny me?" she asked. "My car was stolen. My car was insured. I made my premium payments. I complied with every demand they made of me. I gave them receipts for everything they asked for. I provided them with all my financial data. How could they deny me?"

The incident began when Miss Betts, a nurse in Roswell Park's bone marrow transplant unit who expects to graduate from Daemen College this spring, went shopping at the Galleria shortly before 6 p.m. Sept. 27. When she came out, she said, her car was gone.

The next day the car was found, burned out, on East Amherst Street in Buffalo. An automobile dealer told her it would cost some $18,000 to repair the damage.

She then waited for her claim check from State Farm, where officials initially told her the company was investigating the claim to make sure no fraud was involved.

Miss Betts, the daughter of mixed-race parents, went to a local State Farm office to give a statement in November, accompanied by her mother, Doris, who is black.

"There was a change in their attitude after my mother came in," she said.

Five days later, she said, the company wanted to see receipts from her Walden Galleria shopping trip, along with other financial data.

After giving State Farm a statement under oath on Dec. 12, Miss Betts said she was never contacted by the company, until her mother -- the policy is in her name -- received a letter dated March 13.

"We are advising you at this time that we do not believe that an accidental direct physical loss occurred to the described vehicle under this policy," the letter stated. "As such, we are advising you that your claim is denied in its entirety."

Miss Betts, a young professional woman with her own home on Hastings Avenue and her own upscale car, can't find any possible explanation other than racism.

"I really believe I was totally discriminated against, because of me being an Afro-American woman," she said.

"Race has nothing to do with it," replied Rick Hayes, public affairs manager in State Farm's North Atlantic office in Albany. "It is not an issue here at all."

State Farm investigators have looked "long and hard" at this case, Hayes said. "Based on the information we have developed regarding this claim, we feel our decision is correct," he added. He refused to elaborate, citing confidentiality concerns.

But Cheektowaga police, in their routine investigation, found nothing suspicious in Miss Betts' stolen-car claim.

"We treated this as a legitimate theft of the vehicle," said a lieutenant who asked not to be named. "It looks legitimate to me, but the insurance company may have some information we don't."

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