2009 Storm & Flood Commentary

Clearys Claims Managers

In 2009, the whole country experienced severe flooding and storm damage.

It was called the worst event in 50 years – indeed, some suggested it was the worst in living memory. Global warming was blamed for the damage or, at least, for having contributed to it. Bad planning and development were also highlighted as causes for many of the properties affected.

Today, only 6 years later, things are as bad as ever – worse indeed, given that the proportion of properties having flood insurance cover is much lower now than it was in 2009.

Following the flooding in 2009, many buildings were repaired with the money paid by Insurers making buildings habitable, comfortable and usable again. Little thought was put into preparing for similar occurrences happening again and certainly not only 6 years later.

This is a tragedy.

Clearys have come across numerous cases of flood damage where there is no insurance cover this time around. TV programmes and interviews are highlighting the extremely difficult circumstances this type of slow, insidious, destructive damage has inflicted on many unfortunate householders, farmers and businesses. Others in vulnerable areas, though not yet affected, are fearful for the future.

Securing assistance from the state is a possibility but the funds available to successful applicants are very low. Even at that, compensation is available only to those who do not have insurance cover and have suffered clear and specific damage. The Irish Red Cross are also distributing funds and humanitarian aid to people exposed to flooding but similar limitations apply to that scheme.

After the 2009 event, there was much work done by the state, through local authorities and the Office of Public Works. Defined areas which would be categorised as flood zones for national flood mapping purposes were identified. The insurers then availed of this service and either withdrew flood cover for property in these areas or hiked premiums for those who were “lucky” enough to be offered cover. Of course they would – what would you do?

The ball was then dropped by the state. No planning was put in place to deal with the obvious: what would happen to all those areas and their inhabitants, businesses and farm owners when flooding returned? Far fewer of them would have insurance cover next time around.

The Irish solution to this Irish problem was for government to call a meeting with the insurance industry after the horse had bolted. Clearly, for many unfortunate victims of recent events, there was no access to funds, allied to which they had the worry and stress of possible further recurrences with no prospect of cover being reinstated. Even if cover was available, it would be prohibitively expensive.

It appears to me that a possible solution for the state, property and business owners, insurers and, indeed, charities is to define a plan for residents and businesses that are in this “Catch 22” situation: Let the state assist them in buying insurance cover going forward and stop all future development, without appropriate flood protection, in these areas.

This scheme could include loss of profits cover for farmers and businesses. Cover could be capped so the potential recoveries deal with ‘humanitarian’ issues if they arise. The claims would be dealt with by the insurance industry. The state would have no involvement in the process nor would the charities.

Ultimately, it should be clear to everyone that continuing to reside in flood zones carries a risk and that, over time, people should have the choice and wherewithal to move away from them.

Such a scheme would mean that the cost to the state could be evenly spread over time and insurers could remain on the pitch with all the structures to deal with this problem at no additional cost to them.

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What you should do if your property is affected by frost damage.

Frost damage is one of the risks of property ownership that many people overlook. Of course, if your property is well constructed and you live in a temperate climate, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. But even so, the last few winters in Ireland have been especially harsh with more and more incidences of frost damage occurring. So what should you do if your property suffers from frost damage?

Frozen Pipe

The most detrimental side effect of frost damage is burst water pipes, especially underground pipes. Not only can this lead to further problems such as high water bills, but there is no way of telling where the burst is or how bad it is without the help of some expert professionals, so it pays to be prepared. As a preventative measure, you should ensure that your property is adequately insulated, especially the roof. You should also consider insulating the walls.

In the event of frost damage, it is vital that you turn off all taps completely, as drips can freeze and block the pipe, adding further hold-ups and possibly damage. Also ensure that all stop taps and valves have been switched off or closed. Next, you should thaw any exposed pipes by placing a cloth soaked in hot water over them, or alternatively, a filled hot water bottle. Do your best to keep the property warm; use electric heaters if you have reason to believe your heating pipes may be damaged from the frost also (although this is unlikely if the heating been used recently).

The next step is to contact an underground leak detection professional who can search for any inaccessible pipe damage. At this point, you should also contact a loss assessor who will visit the property, gather records and make an inventory of damage, estimating the amount of losses as a result. Once the loss assessor’s survey is complete, you can submit an insurance claim and commence repair works; however, be sure to keep records of what repairs are carried out and all details about them, as this will aid your claim.

Once any damage has been repaired and your insurance claim has been processed, it is worth investing in pipe insulation to avoid a repeat occurrence. This is best done after the adverse weather has improved so it can be completed without delay and will not have any further impact on your property.

What to do if your property is affected by storm damage?

Here in Ireland, there is often a tendency to overlook such possibilities as storm damage due to our usually temperate climate.

However, with the stormiest winter on record occurring just last year in 2013, many people are now realising that coping with extreme weather conditions is becoming more and more of a necessity. This is particularly true of businesses and properties along the coastline, but those inland are not exempt either. If your property suffers from storm damage, here are a few key points to remember.

Lahinch

Luckily, these days we have at least 24 hours warning if a significant storm is imminent, which gives property owners an opportunity to prepare for any potential damage. Remove any important documents, electrical devices like computers and hard drives, or other valuable items from your property and keep them somewhere safe, preferably away from the area the storm will hit. Stack sandbags at the entrances to the building and turn off any electrical, heating or water supplies. Consider reinforcing windows with wooden boards if necessary.

Once the storm has hit, briefly assess the building for any immediate damage but only if it is safe to enter. Check for damage to the roof – particularly the roof tiles with can lead to leaks if removed – windows, floors, cables and electrical components, and look carefully for any cracks, leaks and structural damage. Remember the most important element, however, is that the building must be safe to occupy before anyone enters it.

Once the building has been deemed safe to enter by the relevant authorities (the fire brigade, for example), carefully document the damage with photos, videos, and written notes before beginning to clear away debris. At this point in the process, you should make contact with your insurance providers to begin your claim. The services of Clearys Loss Assessors will be invaluable at this stage, so it is of utmost importance to contact an assessor. The assessor will survey the property and create an extensive inventory of all damage and resulting losses which will help in your claim.

If the damage to the property is truly devastating, there are often disaster recovery services and government aid available. If the job of cleaning up the property is too big for a small number of people, contact Emergency Services and they will be able to send help.

A lightning strike is not an “Act of God”.

A lightning strike can be a very powerful noisy and frightening event.
The wipe out of power to the property may affect all electrical items connected to the house, all copper pipe work and even structural issues. It is therefore impossible to know the extent of damage until power is back, everything is made safe and all electrical items are re-powered one by one.

lightning strike

Our client’s house lost power completely and all local supply was cut off for two days. The house was heated both electrically (under floor) and with an electric air to air heat pump system with heat exchanger.

All the contents of the freezer were thawed out and had to be used immediately or dumped. The house had no heat or other services for the following week. The alarm system was destroyed along with the telephone land-lines and computers which were plugged in at the time.

The violence of the strike broke the joints of the concrete ridged tiles on the roof and dislodged a number if the concrete roof tiles. Water found its way into the house in a number of places following the heavy rainfall during storms in the following days.

This required replacement of plaster board ceilings and redecoration in the areas affected. Before this work could be done the roof had to be stripped and repaired in a number of areas. It took time to source the 20 year old roof tiles and colour and match them.

The weather was too bad to get on the roof for nearly eight weeks after the strike and then the builder was busy on other work.

When the builder was on the roof we discovered that the solar panels were also destroyed and leaking into the roof and down into the insulation in the external timber frame walls.

The Loss Adjusters had made offers to settle the claim which were completely inadequate not only for the cost of work but also because the extent of damage was very difficult to establish and prove without detailed investigations.

The electricians carried out resistance testing on all systems in the house. It was then discovered that 3 circuits in the under floor heating system were shorting and therefore destroyed.

circuitboard

To repair these circuits would mean stripping out the rooms affected, taking up the 150mm screed, replacing the system and putting it all back again. This was extensive work and very costly.

Over time we also discovered that the storm had caused the failure of external LED lightning it had destroyed circuitry in an electrical Robot Lawnmower. The pumps and power supply to two water pumps on the site were also destroyed. Specialist technicians had to replace control panels in the heating system and the alarm system.

The whole event is a major disruption. The insurers were not in a position to assist with any of the repairs. In all our client had nine different Trades and Specialists involved for Quotations and Repairs. Insurers also sought their own competitive quotations. The whole process took six months to complete.

The final hurdle came when the bank would not cash the insurance company’s cheque because the bank account was in the name of husband and wife but the Insurance Policy is in the name of one person and this ridiculous position took another three weeks to sort out.

The total cost of repair was in excess of €30,000.

A few lessons from this case:

  1. Insurers pay for lightning strikes (It is not excluded because of Act of God or the like).
  2. The issue is very complicated and time consuming.
  3. You need an experienced Loss Assessor.
  4. The Loss Assessors fees should be paid for by the policy because the whole process requires expertise. If client had to get an Architect, Electrical Engineer, Quantity Surveyor and Project Manager fees would have been 20% of the cost at least.

What happens if your business is affected by fire?

No matter how prepared you may be or how many precautions you take, the risk of a fire in your commercial property is always present. Thankfully, most fires result in only minor damage to equipment or paint work. A serious fire, however, can have a devastating effect on a business and incur massive financial losses, both through temporary ceasing of trade and the cost of repair works. The services of a loss assessor are key in this instance and will ensure both you and your insurance broker are getting the fairest assessment of damage and compensation.

Dublin Fire

To help make the process run as smoothly as possible, here are some steps you should take in the event of a commercial property fire:

  • Once the fire has been dealt with and the immediate danger has passed, it is critical that you inform your insurance company and landlord (if you don’t own the property) about the event straight away. Arrange for a loss assessor to visit the site and get a better indication of the damage; your insurance company may also send a loss adjuster to verify the condition of the site.
  • Next, ensure the premises are safe and that there is no risk of further damage. The fire brigade will be the best judgement of this. Only when they say it is safe to do so should you re-enter the building. Thoroughly examine all gas and electricity appliances and outlets, and make sure the supply for both is turned off.
  • Remove any valuables from the building; any business or accounts records, trading licenses, cash, employee documentation, etc. Secure the building and protect it from further damage (through vandalism, theft or weather) by informing the police. Do not leave the site until it has been fully secured.
  • The loss assessor will then visit the site. Take photographs and create an inventory of damage to aid them; they will keep their own corresponding version. The loss assessor will handle contact with the insurance company during this stage. During repairs, keep meticulous receipts and records at all stages of the work to supplement your claim.

Insurance Claim Form

The insurance company will then determine the exact details of the claim, which will vary depending on the cause of the fire, damage incurred by it and any financial losses as a result. You will be notified as soon as a conclusion is reached, and then the claim can be processed.