I recall seeing snippets of a tornado event impacting a house just outside of my hometown of Bendigo, Victoria, Australia on the 29 June 2019 however did not look too closely at any news article or social media at this initial stage, as rare as this type of event was.
I was driving to work on the following Monday when I received a call from my manager who advised me that this tornado event which destroyed a house was in fact a claim our office had received instructions after hours to assess. I quickly went into the office to collect my equipment, as well as taking my colleague Kial along to assist with the assessment.
Arriving shortly after 8:00am, we were greeted by the owners who had just finished an interview with a morning television program and were about to commence an interview for a local news program. As neither Kial or I wanted to get too close to the news camera that was surveying the house, we took a walk around the dwelling in an opposite direction where we were simply shocked at the extent of damage in front of us.
Barely any walls of this brick veneer house remained, and debris was strewn in every direction, with some building materials and personal contents items located in the tops of trees over 50 metres away. Most significant to Kial and myself was a single brick which was firmly lodged into a plaster wall which indicated the severity of the tornado which passed through.
Once the owners were finished with the news crew, we were able to discuss the circumstances of the claim with them, where it was revealed that the one owner was home at the time of the loss and was filming the intense rainfall when he noticed a formation coming toward the house. He quickly turned to go inside the house to which at this stage he cannot recall precisely what happens next, but he awoke several minutes later with a sore head and ribs, laying in the entry of the house with debris on top of him. It is quite remarkable that the owner was not more seriously hurt and that his wife and two-year-old child were not home at this time.
Upon hearing this recount of the event, it was clear that this initial site inspection was not going to take a normal course, as the owners were still in a state of shock, no doubt thinking of all the what-if scenarios. It didn’t seem right to ask questions about the house, contents and normal information we would be looking to obtain for a loss of this nature, so we simply spent the next hour walking around the house with the owners listening to what the house meant to them and their initial concerns.
From these discussions, it was clear that their main concern was with the debris that remained around the property and in nearby trees, so we arranged for a make-safe through a local contractor, who in turned arranged for some labour and a tree-lopper to assist with the initial clearing and tidying of site. Further to this, discussions regarding temporary accommodation were held and advice regarding policy limits in this regard provided, enabling the owners to commence looking for a suitable rental.
We would have spent nearly three hours on site that morning and I recall looking down at my notes and seeing much of the page not filled. Normally I would have scrambled to obtain more information, but it was clear this was not the time and simply listening to the owners and getting to know them was more important. An emergency payment to the owners was organised that afternoon and an agreed site inspection was arranged for the coming Thursday, as it was deemed more appropriate to return then to obtain all the information required.
Over the next week, in close liaison with the insurance company, we had arranged for demolition quotations which one was subsequently approved, and the site cleared within 10 days of our initial inspection. Our contents assessment was completed and recommendations for full settlement of the sum insured processed by the insurance company. Within five weeks of our initial assessment, we had obtained a detailed reinstatement scope of work from an independent consultant and subsequent replacement quotations, which were soon acted upon by the insurers in releasing the settlement of the building sum insured.
With our involvement in the claim complete, we received a very heartfelt thank you from the owners for all that we had done over the previous five weeks. The owners still have a long road ahead of them in the re-build of their home, but it was nice to know that we were able to assist in such a time of need for these owners.
My main take-away from this claim is the importance of simply listening and absorbing information during the initial site inspection. As adjusters I think we have many hats to wear and in times like these, it is important to know which one to put on and establish a clear course for the claim to follow so that the end outcome can be achieved.