‘It all floated out the door’: insurers add to trauma

Stephanie Gardiner |

Insurers have been accused of a lack of understanding in the wake of the 2022 floods.
Insurers have been accused of a lack of understanding in the wake of the 2022 floods.

More than a year after a metre of water ripped through their house, Phillip and Ann-Maree Davis are still living in their backyard.

The couple lost everything when a severe flash flood wiped out much of their three-bedroom home in Molong, central west NSW, on the morning of November 13, 2022.

They lived in the mouldy shell of their home for months after the disaster, before moving into a caravan on their property and then a small demountable provided by their insurer.

Flood victims Phillip and Ann-Maree Davis
Phillip and Ann-Maree Davis said the drawn-out insurance process took a toll on their wellbeing. (Stephanie Gardiner/AAP PHOTOS)

During that time, Suncorp’s AAMI offered cash pay outs of between $96,000 and $116,000, while local builders quoted more than double to rebuild, Mr Davis told a federal parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday.

He said the drawn-out experience took a toll on the couple’s wellbeing, work and finances.

“It’s your health, your mental state, I’ve packed on 30kg … with the stress,” Mr Davis told the committee sitting in Molong.

The inquiry is examining the response of insurers to the impact of major floods across parts of NSW, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania in 2022.

A volunteer helps empty the house of an elderly woman.
A volunteer empties the house of an elderly woman damaged by flooding in Molong in 2022. (Murray McCloskey/AAP PHOTOS)

The Davis’ rebuild was eventually approved when Suncorp executives intervened following local publicity, the committee was told. 

Molong and Eugowra were inundated by the flash flood after repeated heavy downpours, while the nearby town of Forbes endured several floods in one year.

The scale of destruction in Forbes was significant, with more than 100 houses destroyed and 1327 badly damaged, mayor Phyllis Miller said.

Ms Miller said insurers pressured many residents to accept cash payments rather than wait for their claims to be approved.

The payments were often more than $100,000 short of a policy’s value.

Steve Loane, Phyllis Miller and Kevin Beatty
Forbes mayor Phyllis Miller and Cabonne mayor Kevin Beatty give evidence at the hearing. (Stephanie Gardiner/AAP PHOTOS)

“That is daylight robbery when someone’s mental health and stress is at its very lowest,” Ms Miller told the inquiry.

Eugowra did not have phone service for a week after the disaster – which razed much of the village – leaving many unable to quickly contact their insurers, Cabonne Council mayor Kevin Beatty said.

Insurers were either not on the ground after the flood, or only available for a short time.

“Their presence would have been crucial … (but) it wasn’t there and it added to the trauma,” Mr Beatty said.

Both community leaders said insurers raised premiums and took a blanket approach to coverage after the floods, despite varying levels of risk across the towns and villages.

Flood damaged goods outside a house in Forbes.
Damaged floor coverings and cupboards outside a house in Forbes, in the NSW Central West, in 2022. (Lucy Cambourn/AAP PHOTOS)

Kirsty Evans, a Molong local and lawyer, said insurers quibbled with clients over small details, even demanding photos of flood-damaged items long after they were cleared away.

“It really is a secondary trauma,” Ms Evans said. 

“You’re asking the customer to walk back through their premises in their mind and touch and feel everything … while knowing that months earlier it all floated out the door.”

The inquiry is due to sit in Eugowra and Richmond, in the NSW Hawkesbury, this week.