EQC kept mum about asbestos-infected house

Last updated 05:00 14/07/2014
Angela Dawson
IAIN MACGREGOR/ Fairfax NZ

AT RISK: Angela Dawson and her family may have been living with asbestos for a couple of years post-quake.

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Angela Dawson and her three children lived in a house infested with asbestos for more almost two years after the quakes.

EQC identified the risks when assessing the damage in October 2011, but did not alert the family.

EQC paid Dawson a $7000 cheque as settlement for her claim with no more information.

She disputed the amount. An independent report assessed the damage at about $45,000.

"You rely on EQC and you think they're sending people in who know their stuff, but they don't," Dawson said.

In May 2013, the family was still waiting for EQC to re-assess the damage. Dawson's partner Brent Smith decided to go ahead and cover the cracks in the ceiling in two rooms where the family had scraped off the stipple prior to the quakes.

A builder friend helping with the work told the family the house looked like it had asbestos on the damaged ceilings.

Smith called EQC and asked that the organisation test the property so that the family could decide whether or not it was safe to stay in the house while waiting for a re-assessment of their claim.

EQC said the family could do the test at their own expense. The test came back positive and the asbestos company told the family to move out immediately.

Documents obtained through the official information act show that EQC noted the asbestos risks on the first assessment in 2011.

Smith said asbestos-containing material was falling off the ceiling at the time.

Dawson said she was shocked to realise EQC had shown no concern for her children's health.

"Had we not initiated the asbestos test, we would still be living there waiting for EQC.".

Dawson said she was under financial pressure having to pay the mortgage on the house, and renting another place.

"Our lives have been put on hold," she said.

In May 2014, the family received a cheque of $45,000 from EQC despite their opting into the home repair programme in April 2014.

An EQC spokesperson said it was a "complicated case" because renovations were under way prior to the earthquake.

EQC's policy was to cash settle in such cases.

When asked why EQC did not inform a family with three children of the asbestos risks present in their house, the spokesperson said it was not EQC's role as an insurer.

"The EQC assessment did identify the possibility of asbestos containing materials in stipple ceilings where there was some minor cosmetic cracking, and some historic cracking from before the earthquake."

EQC's role in this case was to settle the claim, a spokesperson said, leaving it to the builder hired to carry out the repairs to identify asbestos risks.

However, EQC's first assessment of the damage was six times under the value of the actual cost of the repairs, and it took the commission more than two years to re-assess the property.

For most of that time Dawson and her partner Smith had no idea about the asbestos risks.

"EQC constantly puts the onus on the homeowner who don't necessarily have the resources to pay for independent reports and asbestos tests," Smith said.

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