Information and earthquake claims

by John Goddard - Morrison Kent

In order to fairly settle an earthquake claim, it is essential to have all the relevant information to hand. The most important documents are likely to be your insurance policy wording and your policy schedule. If you do not have these documents, then you should contact your private insurer and ask to be provided with copies.
  
EQC’s obligations to settle earthquake claims are based in statute whereas a private insurer’s obligations are based on the relevant insurance policy. Its obligations are contractual in nature. As you are dealing with EQC in the first instance, it is essential for you to be familiar with the provisions of the Earthquake Commission Act 1993 (“the Act”). The easiest way to find this legislation is to go to www.legislation.govt.nz and do a search for the Earthquake Commission Act. Following the Canterbury earthquakes, the Act has been the subject of significant criticism. It is currently under review. However, when the November 14 earthquake occurred, the Act had not been amended. This means that the 1993 Act will apply to all EQC claims arising from the 14 November earthquake.
  
In Canterbury, claimants found great difficulty obtaining full information from EQC under the Official Information Act 1982 (“OIA”). This lead to the Chief Ombudsman and the Privacy Commissioner drafting a joint report into the Earthquake Commission’s handling of information requests in Canterbury. The report found that EQC had been routinely breaching its OIA and Privacy Act obligations to an “alarming extent”. A number of recommendations were made, all of which were implemented by EQC.
  
The Chief Ombudsman and the Privacy Commissioner noted that in the context of a major natural disaster, access to information was not just a “nice to have” that gives way to more important priorities. Instead, it is a basic right that enables individuals to engage effectively with government agencies, and to have a proper say in decisions that profoundly affect their lives. According to the Report: 

Timely, full, clear and accurate information is especially critical in the context of disaster recovery. Disasters bring such uncertainty and vulnerability to affected populations, that confidence and certainty in what is being done to help is vital to the recovery of each individual and the community as a whole. 

This report has highlighted the importance of information to affected people. Subsequently, both EQC and insurers have made better attempts at providing relevant information. Both EQC and private insurers are required to provide information to their customers under both the OIA and the Privacy Act 1993. Both of these Acts are powerful tools for claimants who are seeking to access full information regarding their earthquake claims.

In Canterbury, it has taken some claimants more than five years to resolve their claims. If this happens as a result of the 14 November earthquake, then the amount of information associated with each claim is going to be considerable. Therefore, it is likely that claimants will need to put systems in place which enable them to manage large quantities of information.

Information management is a key aspect of effectively managing earthquake claims. EQC and private insurers are under legal obligations to keep claimants informed and up to date and to settle claims as quickly as practicable. Claimants are encouraged to make prudent decisions in relation to earthquake claims based on all of the relevant information. In the aftermath of the earthquake, provision of information will be essential for the recovery.

If you would like any further information or advice please contact either the article author John Goddard or the Morrison Kent Wellington office (04) 472-0020.



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