It has been more than six months since the devastating tornado swept through the region and Linley Park owners, Pam and Rob Donaldson, are still locked in a battle with their insurer Assetinsure Pty Ltd.By Fiona Blick
The Donaldson’s daughter, Kim Lovely, spoke with the Chronicle about the nightmare of a protracted claims process, inaccurate insurance assessments, policy fine print “traps”.
“It has been a slow, excruciating process consistent with the experiences of many local people still battling with their insurer, so Mum and Dad know they are not alone,” Kim said.
“We read with interest The Chronicle’s front page article on Wednesday, July 24 drawing attention to the terrible plight of Lauren Fogarty of Bundalong along with advice from local politicians regarding putting pressure on insurers via paper trails and publicity.
“Unfortunately, Mum and Dad are getting frustratingly close to lodging a dispute with the Financial Ombudsman’s Service (FOS) as they are not satisfied the progress of their claim.”
The Donaldson’s have Assetinsure’s ‘Farm Protection Policy’ sold to them by broker OAMPS and when taking out the policy they believed their entire property, 101 hectares, would be covered against storm damage as the figure of “101 hectares” was highlighted on the front page of their policy document, along with “removal of debris” as a special endorsement.
“It wasn’t until after the tornado that Mum and Dad discovered in the fine print of their policy that only items listed on a schedule would be covered for removal of debris,” Kim said.
“That was the first of many tough lessons regarding their policy.
“It took the insurance agency three months to initially process Mum and Dad’s claim and provide them with a written response, despite repeated requests from Dad to have all communications in writing.”
By June, Robert and Pam were still traumatised but were trying to be patient.
“The broker was in regular contact by phone, but no one could explain the reason for delay or why the insurer couldn’t keep them informed of the progress of their claim in writing” Kim said.
“Mum and Dad’s devastation turned quickly to frustration after they finally received a response from their agent, along with a settlement offer which was less than half the value of the estimated damages.”
The Donaldson’s had become aware that many items had been left off the claim; there was confusion over the definitions of farm fixtures and contents and they were in dispute over the extent of damage caused by trees and debris.
“We turned to Anna Nightingale from Legal Aid at Wagga,” Kim said.
“Anna was very helpful reviewing the policy and the insurer’s response.
“Legal Aid noted there were several inconsistencies and gaps regarding workmanship between the quotes by the two builders in the assessor’s report.”
Late in June, the Donaldson’s wrote to the insurer outlining a list of concerns, registering additional damages as well as items that had been overlooked by the assessor.
“We explained the bulk of the damage caused by the tornado was through fallen trees and debris in the house yard,” Kim said.
“Debris from at least 13 large trees along the front of the house blocked access into the home and destroyed the front boundary fence and damaged hand-crafted entrance gates.
“Debris also blocked access to fixing the farm fixtures listed in the policy.”
According to Kim, one example of the insurer’s inaccurate reporting and assessing occurred the morning after the tornado hit.
“Dad was given the go-ahead the day after the tornado to engage an excavation firm to undertake emergency clearing of debris to provide access into their house and to make the site secure.
“We submitted the excavator’s invoice, which came to just over $25,000 and the insurer later told us they would only pay $17,000 of the work, so we are disputing this.
“We maintain the excavator was engaged in good faith after seeking permission via a broker.”
Kim said her parents had not been provided any instruction regarding the excavation work or the interpretation of their policy during the emergency period they required the excavator’s assistance.
“Also, despite the fact that so many of our farm contents could be seen strewn across the property, not one of the three assessors or broker representatives questioned the loss of any farm contents, so this section of the policy was completely overlooked until the past couple of weeks,” she said.
“We feel like we have done everything we can to progress our claim constructively, but our patience has run out.
“Mum and Dad simply want to get their farm fixed and move on with their lives.”
Kim said if other people are still having insurance difficulties after the tornado weather event or even last year’s flooding there is a couple of avenues they could consider.
“The Financial Ombudsman’s Service (FOS) provides independent dispute resolution between consumers and financial service providers, including general insurers and Legal Aid is another port of call for concerned consumers,” she said.
“It’s unfortunate however to be forced into the situation of needing an arbitrator to rule on what my parents are truly entitled to after such a horrific event.”
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