If things fall apart - are you covered?

If things fall apart - are you covered?

The short-term insurance industry is no doubt bracing itself for a flood of flood-related damage claims from the people of Durban after the monster storm of Monday night and Tuesday. 


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The assessors will be working overtime to deal with those claims, just as they did 18 months ago when Durban was lashed with that last disastrous downpour - it cost the eThekwini Municipality more than half a billion Rand to repair the infrastructure damaged during the storm of 10 October 2017.

At the time, Mandy Barrett of insurance brokerage and risk advisors, Aon South Africa, said the severe weather conditions highlighted how vulnerable the country is to climate change, and changing weather patterns.

"The downpours happen in a matter of minutes with incredible intensity, proving that extreme weather catastrophes happen with very little warning, and there is just no telling as to how severe they will be," she said.

“General consensus from meteorologists is that climate change is having a massive impact on property losses, and South Africa should brace for a new normal of abnormally heavy rain and hail storms, powerful winds and drought conditions in many regions,” she said.  

So best you make sure that should you need to make a claim on your homeowners’ insurance, your claim will be paid out.

Collapsed boundary or retaining wall claims are often repudiated by insurers on the grounds that there were defects in their design, materials or construction, or that they weren't maintained - kept free of a heavy creeper for example - and gradually became compromised.

Short-term insurance ombud Deanne Wood told me recently that policyholders argue that the wall would not have collapsed but for the storm and because storm damage is covered by their policy, the insurer is liable for the loss.

“On the face of it this may be true, but if an insurer is able to show that the wall would, on a balance of probabilities, have withstood the storm if it had been adequately constructed or maintained, they are entitled to reject the claim.” she said.

Clearly, after a storm as massive as the one Durban experienced this week, in most cases insurers would have a pretty hard time trying to claim that the damage was caused by anything other than extreme force of nature.

If a retaining wall which had remained intact for 30 or 40 years and then collapsed during an extraordinarily intense storm, the wall would most likely be considered to have stood the test of time and the claim would be successful.

But that won’t stop them from putting up your excess once they know your property to be particularly susceptible to flooding because of its geographical position. And possibly your premium as well.

I remember Zelda Neale’s telling us in October 2017 how after her low-lying Durban home was completely flooded in a major storm the previous July – for the second time – she submitted a damages claim to her insurance, which was paid out.

But while her premium didn't increase as a result‚ the excess payable for flood damage tripled – from R3,000 to R15,000.

So if you’re house hunting, ask very specific questions of the owner or estate agent about not only its load shedding zone but flooding history of the property and the area. That will affect your insurance premium and excess to a very large extent.

Getting back to the boundary and retaining walls which collapse during storms, there’s a common misperception among people who take out a loan and homeowners’ insurance with the same bank.

That is that the inspector who visited the home when they where in the process of buying it should have picked up if any walls were sub-standard.

But that argument doesn’t hold any water because that bank inspection had nothing to do with assessing an insurance risk - that bank person went to the house to see if there was sufficient value in the property to justify the purchase price, and to provide sufficient security for the bond.

So here's how to spare yourself that “Sorry for you, we’re not paying to fix your wall” scenario when you make a claim on your homeowners’ insurance policy.

Before you buy a property, find out what your homeowner’s policy requires in terms of your boundary or retaining wall, and if you don’t know whether yours complies or not, have it professionally assessed.

Often the wall or fence has been extended, when its foundations were constructed to support a much shorter structure.

“If you discover that the walls or other structures are not built according to the required standards, you must disclose this information to your insurer so that they can adequately to assess the risk. It may mean that you will have to pay an additional premium in order to enjoy cover for otherwise excluded portions of the property. Or, it may mean that certain portions of the property will be excluded from the ambit of cover,” the Ombud advises.

Also read: What’s your data privacy worth to you? 

To contact Wendy, go to her Facebook page and click on the send email tab.

In case you missed any of the past Consumerwatch shows, find them below:

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