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On July 15th, a tornado hit the City of Barrie, leaving behind a path of destruction through a residential community that stretched for approximately five kilometres, with winds reaching speeds of up to 210 km/hour. Luckily, there were no deaths reported, however, approximately 10 people suffered injuries, all non-life-threatening. However, the resulting property damage was immense. In total, over 150 homes were damaged, with nearly half being deemed ‘unsafe to enter’. In the days and weeks since, over 100 people have been displaced from their homes and some may find themselves unable to return for a long time, with some houses requiring a complete tear-down and rebuild.

As residents pick through the damage, some are already beginning to face pushback from insurers, however, the provincial government has promised to make up for any shortfall created by an insurer’s refusal to cover damages. Additionally, some of the more severe damage is being attributed to poor construction, which could see contractors and builders facing professional liability claims down the road.

Several Homes Expected to Be Condemned

According to Glenn McGillivray, the managing director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, a home cannot generally be salvaged if there is complete roof loss or significant roof displacement. In such cases, the home will be condemned and need to be completely rebuilt. So far, more than two dozen homes have been condemned for this reason. Given the severity and extent of the damage, the tornado is likely to be considered a catastrophe for the insurance industry, meaning it will result in more than $25 million in insured losses, industry-wide.

Residents Already Facing Coverage Concerns, Province Vows to Step In

In addition to a wave of expected property claims, there have already been a number of claims for damages to automobiles, most damaged while sitting in driveways as the tornado passed through. However, some residents are already running into roadblocks in terms of coverage. One resident reported that her son’s vehicle was damaged while parked on the family’s property, but the insurance company has denied the claim to cover repairs. The car itself wasn’t insured because her son was saving up before purchasing a policy, but the boy’s mother assumed it would be covered as part of her home insurance policy since it was on the premises.

The provincial government has made promises to “step in and help” affected residents if their insurance doesn’t fully cover their losses. As of this writing, t’s unclear exactly to what extent the government will subsidize uncovered expenses.

Insurance Bureau of Ontario Offers Advice to Those Affected

The Insurance Bureau of Ontario offered advice to impacted families when it comes to making coverage claims, starting with advising people to contact their insurance representative to assess their coverage. When it comes to property damage caused by a tornado, the following issues are generally covered by a standard home insurance policy:

  • Damages caused by flying debris, fallen trees, and/or branches;
  • Losses caused by water entering a home through openings caused by the tornado (such as a hole in a roof or a broken window); and
  • Damages to vehicles on the property caused by wind or water, noting that this would be part of a comprehensive policy specifically. Homeowners must confirm whether they have this coverage as part of their policy.

In addition to contacting insurance representatives, homeowners are also encouraged to take photos of the damage whenever possible and make detailed notes, both of which can help to support and expedite the claims process.

Potential for Professional Liability Claims as Building Code Deficiencies are Found

Perhaps most concerningly, several building code violations have been discovered in the aftermath of the storm, which may have contributed to the excessive damage. Forensic teams have begun assessing the properties to find out why the damage has been so extensive. Already there are reports of homes with insufficient nails holding structures together, including some where the roofs weren’t even nailed to the frame of the house, according to Greg Kopp, an engineering professor at Western University and lead researcher of the Northern Tornadoes Project. Mayor of Barrie, Jeff Lehman, called the news distressing, and said the concerns around workmanship will be addressed as investigations continue.

If the findings ultimately show that shortcuts were used, potentially contributing to the extent of the damage, builders and contractors could find themselves facing claims of professional liability. These claims can have a serious impact on a person or business, resulting in fines, limitations on practice ability, a suspension of one’s licence, or even criminal charges.

Contact Milosevic Fiske LLP for Exceptional Legal Representation in Insurance Related Matters 

The highly experienced Toronto insurance lawyers at Milosevic Fiske LLP represent clients with insurance-related legal issues. We understand the importance of swift, resourceful action where insurance matters are involved. We can act quickly to protect our clients and help ensure that they receive maximum compensation for their injuries or harm suffered. In addition, we have considerable experience working with clients on professional liability claims.

To learn more about how we can help you call us at 416-916-1387 or contact us online.