Every weekday morning, one by one, employees at a downtown Chicago hospital, park their cars in a parking lot on the corner of Wood and Jackson streets in the city.
But last summer, several of them began to notice something different about their cars.
“I’d wash my car and be like, why won’t it come clean?” asked Lisa Dolatto.
And she wasn’t alone.
“I thought it was just dirty,” Wanda Davalle told NBC 5 Responds. “Then, when I washed it, I noticed a lot of little yellow specks on there”.
The car owners remembered that someone had posted a sign, asking if anyone had noticed a yellow film all over their cars. In all, seven employees responded to the posting. And when they all finally had a chance to meet, they took a walk to the parking lot, where they made a possible connection.
“We all walked outside and noticed that the color of the paint was the exact same color as the building across the street”, said Leigh Drewniak, who first noticed the specks on her Chevy Traverse and posted the sign.
The building that she’s referring to is a Church’s Chicken located at 1755 West Jackson Street, which sits about 100 yards from their parking lot. According to the store manager, the exterior of the restaurant was painted last May.
NBC 5 Responds spoke with the painter, who admitted using an airless paint sprayer to get the job done. Airless spraying is the fastest way to complete most painting. It saves time and money. But professionals warn that painters need to take in account the wind, because the color could end up on more than the intended target.
NBC 5 Responds reached out to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and according to their data, the winds during the third week of May of 2017, when the painting took place, hit peak speeds of 30 mph and were coming from the southwest.
As a result, we found paint on city light poles, city benches, and on private cars parked along the fence, directly south of the restaurant.
“You can see it all over the hood. All over the windshield,” says Bozhidar Petrov while pointing out the damage on his BMW.
Same for Doretha Boyd, “It comes around to the windshield, all the way around to the side here, on the mirror, on the door, the windows over here."
It was the same over and over for each driver as they all pointed out thousands of little paint specks littering the exteriors of their cars and SUVs. While not glaringly obvious until you look up close, all those little spots add up. Each owner got an estimate from an auto body shop to remove the paint, ranging from $1,047, all the way up to $9,996.75.
“We felt strongly that we weren’t responsible for this, we should not be paying out of pocket to get our cars fixed.” Says Lisa Dolatto, who says her Nissan Rogue is covered from front to back with small paint spots.
Armed with pictures and repair estimates, the group reached out to Falcon Holdings, the owner of Church’s Chicken. They, in turn, referred the car owners to their insurance carrier, Conifer Insurance.
The group sent their complaint to Conifer in September, then waited. Two months later, they received a denial letter.
“You have made a claim for damage done to your vehicles by an independent contractor who was hired to paint the outside of our insured’s Church’s Chicken location,” the letter stated. “This independent contractor is the liable party. As such, please accept this letter as a denial of this claim”.
Conifer provided the car owners with the painter’s name, address and phone number. The group made several attempts to reach the painter, but never got a response.
NBC 5 Responds was able to reach the painter, and he insisted that he never signed a contract to do the job and was not insured. But in Illinois, a painter does not have to carry insurance to do work.
According to the Illinois Department of Insurance, there is no such statewide requirement for painters to carry liability insurance when contracting with a business.
“Now we’re stuck. We have thousands and thousands of dollars in damage done to our vehicles that we can’t get anywhere with”, said Leigh.
As a result, the group turned to NBC 5 Responds in hopes of getting a fair resolution.
“We were like, we got to get NBC here, they’ll get this job done,” said Wanda.
NBC 5 Responds reached out to Conifer Insurance and within days, Conifer notified the car owners that an adjuster would be contacting them to help get their cars fixed.
“I was made aware that the painter had no insurance and did not respond to any of your requests,” Raymond Warden, the claim adjuster wrote. “I confirmed that since he did not respond, Conifer Insurance would step in and take care of the damage to your vehicles.”
It was welcome news.
“It will be nice to finally have a car that is clean,” motorist Lisa Dolatto told NBC 5. “And when my windshield wipers are on, I can see out my window!”
NBC 5 Responds again reached out to the painter and Falcon Holdings for a comment, but did not get a response.