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 if your Property is Affected by Subsidence?

Subsidence is a tricky problem for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is difficult to prove without lengthy and time-consuming tests. Secondly, there is no ‘home remedy’ – the only way to solve the problem is to hire expert professionals who deal with soil erosion, structural foundations and the like. And thirdly, the longer you leave it unresolved, the worse it will be.

There are many factors that can cause subsidence. It could be because of soil erosion due to inadequate drainage under your property, or if significant tree felling occurs in the vicinity of the building this can cause soil to shift under the foundations. Signs of subsidence include widening cracks in walls or diagonal cracks rather than cracks that run along the joining corner of two walls.

Subsidence

Repairing the visible damage without addressing the problem itself is literally ‘smoothing over the cracks’ – the damage will reappear and will be worse each time. Not only does this leave the problem of subsidence unsolved, it’s also a waste of money, can devalue your property, and will cause ongoing problems.

Unfortunately, if you suspect your property may have subsidence damage, the only thing to do is begin the process of surveying, draining, testing and monitoring with a team of expert professionals who will devise the best course of action. At this point, before any major expenses have been incurred, it is vital to contact a loss assessor. The assessor will visit the property, document the damage (both to the property and to your business as a result), and compile a definitive report which you should then submit to your insurance company to aid your claim. Loss assessors are completely impartial, have expert knowledge, and will work to make sure the most accurate result is achieved from the insurance claim.

To minimise the risk of subsidence, check drains and pipes regularly for blockages or leaks. Make sure that any trees in the vicinity of the building are pruned regularly to reduce their water uptake, and if any new trees are to be planted in the area, they should be a minimum of the length the adult tree will reach from the property. Of course, keep an eye out around the building for tell-tale cracks too, and if necessary, take photos of them periodically to assess whether they are widening or not.

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.