Building owners 'not claiming fully'

INSURANCE COUNCIL: Chief executive Chris Ryan.
INSURANCE COUNCIL: Chief executive Chris Ryan.

Canterbury's commercial building owners are missing out on tens of millions of dollars of insurance entitlements because they are failing to make full claims on the earthquakes, an insurance specialist says.

Many business owners and landlords had not received their full entitlement under their insurance policies and had settled on lower than fair amounts, Lance Morris an insurance claim preparer of ICP NZ said.

More would continue to do so unless they claimed for all they were entitled to under existing insurance policies.

Auckland-based ICP NZ was owned by John Lawlor. He and Lawlor had first worked as assessors for loss adjustment company Cunningham Lindsay, which worked as an adjustor for all the main insurers such as IAG, Vero and Tower.

They had left the loss adjustment business, disillusioned with the process under way in helping settle Christchurch earthquake claims. During his employment he had told quake victims what they should be claiming for, but was later advised that is not the role of an adjustor, and was rather the responsibility of a broker.

Chris Ryan, chief executive of the Insurance Council, said there were companies like ICP working in Christchurch to represent customers of insurance companies, which were getting paid on a commission or other payment basis.

"They're people that work specifically on behalf of the insured in an attempt to get more money out on their behalf. In the legal profession they're called fire engine chasers in the United States," Ryan said.

"Our only concern of the companies that have been acting in Christchurch, is that a large number of them have been effectively self-advertising by making unfair criticisms of the insurance industry, saying come to us we'll help you."

Morris said having established the new business the pair were now travelling to Christchurch where they had worked with around 25 clients, helping quake victims get higher payouts from their insurers than they would have otherwise. About 15 of these claims had been settled.

"Most insured (parties) don't know what they're entitled to claim," he said.

In one ICP NZ customer case, a Ferrymead landlord with about 20 tenants potentially could get between $600,000-$1.8 million extra on top of an existing claim amount.

Landlords often forgot to claim for some entitlements. For example, tenancies that were vacant at the date of the earthquake were often not claimed for. Neither were annual rent reviews to take inflation and rental growth in an area into account, or the increased cost of working from a new site.

Full operating expenses for the property were often not claimed. These could include continued gardening, lift maintenance, lighting and security costs at the property.

Also multiple business interruption claims could be made for separate earthquake events in some cases, if the intention had been to restore the business on the site, Morris said.

Costs could also be added for claim preparation work. His own firm charged a flat rate of $250 an hour for work done.

While loss adjustors were contracted to the insurance companies to accurately calculate the value of the loss, their work did not reflect losses they did not know about, Morris said.

The Press