Three years after the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire destroyed about 15% of the buildings in the area, a local woman who continues to seek settlement for the damages is calling for amendments to the Insurance Act.
According to Jamie Harpe, she managed to settle a claim for the contents of her home with her insurer, Aviva. However, a claim for the house itself, which was valued around $3.1 million to $4.3 million two years ago, remains unsettled to this day.
She and her insurer had a dispute over heating and hoarding costs – worth between $200,000 and $400,000. Harpe believes her family should not have to shoulder such a significant cost. Since then, Harpe has been paying lawyers to help with her claim, and it has cost her about $70,000 over the last two years.
With her home still in disrepair, Harpe purchased a neighboring property to live in. But the money for living expenses from her insurer has run out, and her family has been paying additional expenses out of pocket.
Harpe told CBC News that she is also still paying nearly $5,000 a month for the mortgage on her first home, and she still has to pay for a second mortgage for the newer property.
She believes the Insurance Act has to be changed so that companies have to pay additional living expenses for long, drawn-out cases like hers.
“The Insurance Act seems to work for the insurance company, and when it comes to the consumer there are so many loopholes that the insurance companies can, in a sense, bully the hardworking Canadians,” she said.
According to Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) director of consumer and industry relations Rob de Pruis, over 60,000 insurance claims were opened after the Fort McMurray fire. But of that number, only less than 1% of those claims – such as Harpe’s – remain open.
Such cases are typically complicated files, or situations wherein the company and homeowners could not reach an agreement, he explained.
De Pruis has recommended that homeowners with outstanding claims should either approach their insurer’s internal ombudsman or the independent General Insurance Organization, which can help facilitate conversations between consumers and insurers.
He also said that as a last resort, the claim could go to court.