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Harrowing Testimonies at Flood Insurance Inquiry Highlight Insurers’ Failures

Jun 7, 2024

In the wake of the devastating 2022 floods, a New South Wales Parliament inquiry has brought to light harrowing testimonies from residents struggling with insurance companies. Among the most striking was the testimony of Cathy Sheridan, a full-time carer for her 31-year-old daughter, who detailed her agonising experience with insurer QBE.

Sheridan, diagnosed with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD), depression, and anxiety, recounted how the floods severely damaged her home in Glenhaven. “When it rained, underneath my house became like an Olympic swimming pool. Mould went right throughout the whole house. The floorboards were all warped. There is cracking and peeling of things,” she told the inquiry. 

The financial burden was immense for Sheridan, whose insurance policy costs approximately one-fifth of her disability payment. QBE, according to Sheridan, has continuously shirked its responsibilities despite her precarious financial situation. “QBE, basically from the word go, said it was my fault… They are using this against me, to say that I’m not maintaining the house,” she stated. This accusation came despite Sheridan’s efforts to mitigate flood damage by installing a pump and attempting other maintenance tasks.

Sheridan’s distress was palpable as she recounted the lack of support and the conflicting information from QBE. “They don’t maintain contact. They haven’t provided me with reports which I’ve asked for. The reports that I have received conflict with what they say,” she said. One report indicated adequate airflow in the house, while another contradicted this claim. This inconsistency has left Sheridan and her daughter living in a contaminated home, exacerbating their health issues with persistent mould causing diarrhoea, headaches, and dizziness.

Sheridan said she believes QBE’s tactics are designed to force policyholders to give up. “They’re waiting for us to give up. They’re waiting for us to do it ourselves, or they’re waiting for us to die because they’re doing it to really old people. They’re spending more money trying to avoid their obligations,” she said. Her account included a disturbing allegation that QBE employees had gone through her personal belongings placed in storage, resulting in contamination and loss of items.

The inadequate response from QBE extended to accommodation issues as well. Sheridan recounted the uncertainty of temporary housing arrangements, which were extended every two weeks, leaving her in a constant state of anxiety. “Every move that I had to make—I had to make several moves out and return to the property—was three car trips. It was physically and mentally exhausting,” she described.

Sheridan’s said QBE’s handling of her home repairs was marred by delays and negligence. Despite multiple pleas for assistance, significant issues like her roof’s damage went unaddressed for two years. When she finally took matters into her own hands and repaired the roof, QBE promptly sent an assessor, further fueling her belief that they intentionally neglected her claims.

The inquiry heard that even when QBE did take action, it was insufficient. “The hygienist came to my home… They came back in. They didn’t do the repairs. They took a photo and sent it off to the hygienist, then the hygienist gave the approval to say everything was right. The hygienist didn’t physically come back to the house,” Sheridan said. Subsequent reports indicated that mould continued to regrow, highlighting the ongoing risks to her and her daughter’s health.

Sheridan’s story symbolises the broader issues faced by many flood victims who are dealing with insurance companies. 

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics is examining insurers’ responses to four major flood events in 2022, which affected Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania. The inquiry aims to hear firsthand about the floods’ impact on communities and the experiences of local residents and businesses going through the claims process with their insurers.


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