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The claims deluge after the storm

Two days after KZN’s big storm, it’s the insurance company claims which are telling the story of those eight hours of total mayhem.

Insurance policy papers
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Coming a day after the massive storm which lashed Gauteng on Monday, the number and “quantum” of claims is staggering.

By Wednesday morning, Old Mutual Insure said that it had already received more than a R15 million worth of claims from the storms and naturally this number is expected to increase as more people claims come in. Industry insiders are predicting the total cost to be in the region of R500 million.

Those are four types of policies involved - business, householders insurance (that’s for boundary walls, driveways, pools etc), house contents and motor (all those cars which were submerged in water will no doubt be written off if they were insured.)

I asked Johan Welthagen, head of Old Mutual Insure’s claims support service, what advice he would give those whose homes, cars or both were damaged or destroyed by the storm.

“As always, report your claim as quickly as possible. Don’t wait a week or two to see what happens with your property or your car. Forward your claim immediately and we’ll send professionals out to assess your car and your house. We will then send assessors out.”

Susan Walls, technical advisor for the SA Insurance Association agreed and added this key piece of advice - "Whatever happens, try and minimise the loss. Try and prevent further damage whether it be to the car or the contents of the house or the house itself.”

In other words you don’t want your claim to be jeopardised by something you did or didn’t do to worsen the damage.

Walls said the insurance industry was pulling out all the stops to assess a settle claims as soon as possible. 

"As happened with the Knysna claims recently, the majority of the companies flew people into Knysna to sit and handle claims and get issues resolved. In the wake of this storm, they’ll either bring in people from outlying areas or get temporary staff or whatever is necessary to assist in settling those claims.”

Higher premiums?

Clearly, it’s been a very expensive year for the industry. So should we be bracing ourselves for higher premiums as some industry insiders are predicting?

Welthagen says not. "It is not our policy, when an incident like this occurs, to increase premiums by 30 to 40% in the next six months after the event.”

So we have one insurer on the record about that, at least.

One East Coaster who is glad to have invested in insurance is Grant Wardell.

The Durban North duplex he shares with his wife and toddler son was pretty much destroyed by Tuesday’s storm.

“We had a whole lot of sand deposited into our house - a lot of sand in our garden and pool. The duplex and the whole bottom floor has been ruined. So furniture, all kitchen counters, and the fridge were toppled over as well as all our garage contents, tool shed and the like.”

The family has had to move out, mainly because the retaining boundary wall has been undermined and is in imminent danger of collapse.

Grant estimates that the damage inside the home, where the water was about a metre high yesterday, is at least worth R200 000.

But at least he’s not worrying about financial ruin, being fully insured.

"My brother is an insurance broker; my father has been one all his life so it’s been drilled into us the whole time about being insured properly so we’ve always tried to do that. Living in a complex, you are protected and then our household contents are also being protected.”

Nothing like a disaster to turn a grudge purchase into a grateful one.

Given the severity of the storm and the extent of the damage it caused, insurers are unlikely to claim that a sinkhole in a driveway was as a result of normal wear and tear or that a boundary wall collapsed because it wasn’t built to the correct standard.

But it's worth checking your insurance policy to see what cover you have on your boundary wall and what the conditions are.

Please email us at Consumerwatch and let us know how your storm-related claims are handled.

Paying penalty fees for missed flights

Moving on to airlines - on Tuesday ECR’s news team got a few calls from East Coasters who were irate about being made to pay penalty fees in order to book on another flight.

So I found out whether the airlines were at all sympathetic to passengers who miss flights because of massive, unavoidable delays in passengers getting to the airport - a major storm such as Tuesday’s, or a freeway blockade by taxis.

SAA said it would waive its rebooking fee those who missed flights out of King Shaka on Tuesday and rebooked onto another SAA flight on the same route and in the same cabin class. Tickets must be booked by tomorrow, October 13, and if you already rebooked and were made to pay a rebooking fee, you can apply for a refund. Contact the SAA call centre on 0861 606 606 or visit the airline’s website

Mango said it would charge a “nominal” fee for changes to air tickets related to missed flights on Tuesday. Upgrade and cancellation fees would be waived. Again, you may qualify for a refund.

Kulula said its airport managers had the discretion to waive rebooking penalties and passengers should negotiate around those in extreme cases such as Tuesday’s storm.

And FlySafair’s Kirby Gordon said on days like Tuesday, when huge numbers of passengers missed flights through no fault of theirs, penalty fees for rebooking were waived. 

“It puts us at a financial disadvantage but passengers are also disadvantaged. We’re in this together,” he said. 

And that’s a wonderful way to view these situations, if you ask me.

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