Don’t simply assume your policy covers you for hail damage

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Some owners of property and vehicles damaged in last week’s devastating hailstorm may have been in for another shock when they tried to lodge a claim with their insurance company only to find they were not covered for hail peril.

On 13 November, large parts of Johannesburg (including Midrand, Braamfontein, and Bryanston) and Mpumalanga were hit by a severe hailstorm.

Robert Mulaudzi from Joburg Emergency Management Services (EMS) told news channel eCNA that a number of vehicles had been damaged in Midrand, mostly in Sandton. Mulaudzi said several carports were damaged in the Paulshof area, while a few homes were flooded in Marlboro.

According to IOL, there have been numerous reports of damage to windows, sliding doors, skylights, roofs, gardens, vehicles, and outdoor equipment as a result of the egg-sized hailstones that started to fall just after 6pm.

The hail also damaged parts of the Southern Sun Hotel in Rosebank. Joburg EMS spokesperson Xolile Khumalo told Eyewitness News that although there were no fatalities or injuries, the establishment experienced partial structural collapse.

Can I claim?

Mtho Maphumulo, senior associate in the insurance and personal injury departments at law firm Adams & Adams, says the first thing that many people think about in such situations is their insurance coverage and whether they can claim.

“This is a question that cannot be answered outright. This is because each claim is unique,” Maphumulo says.

But there are steps that property and vehicle owners can take to enhance their chances of successfully claiming.

When it comes to claiming for damage caused by hail, the insured usually needs to have building cover, contents cover, and comprehensive vehicle insurance.

The first question to ask is whether the policy does cover a hailstorm as a peril.

“If not, then there is no cover. This can be verified with a broker or directly with the insurer. Importantly, if one is not covered for this peril as a result of a broker’s oversight, there may be a possibility of a legal claim against that particular broker,” Maphumulo says.

There is also a possibility of being underinsured. He says in this case, again, the insured may have a claim against the broker.

“Policy clauses should also be carefully considered – exclusions, limitations, and conditions. Insurance policies are ordinarily technical and, therefore, difficult to understand. In fact, there are complex legal rules applicable to the interpretation of insurance contracts. As such, it is recommended that insureds seek legal advice on the interpretation of their policy or consult their broker,” Maphumulo says.

He provides some steps that property owners should proactively adopt:

  • Report your claim as soon as possible to your broker or insurer. Most policies have specified periods within which you should report a claim.
  • Have all the necessary documentation and information readily available regarding your policy.
  • Take pictures of the damage.
  • Be cautious not to attend to any repairs yourself unless the insurer has agreed to this.
  • Provide all the documentation and information requested by the insurer as soon as you can.
  • Be on the look-out for further requests by the insurer.
  • Provide truthful and accurate information to the assessor.

Maphumulo says, when submitting their claims, insureds should always bear in mind their duties towards their insurers.

“These include acting in good faith, providing truthful and honest information and not being disruptive in the insurer’s investigation, allowing the insurer’s claims handling process to run its course, and so on.”

Insurers count the cost

Meanwhile, insurance companies are starting to feel the pinch following the devastation caused by last week’s hailstorm.

Fanus Coetzee, executive head of claims at Santam, told IOL the insurer has deployed rapid response teams to the affected areas, but it was too soon to estimate the full extent of the damage or the potential value of claims.

Naked Insurance co-founder Ernest North told Moneyweb that so far, the number of claims received from policyholders affected by Monday’s thunderstorms indicated that this event was the worst to hit the insurance provider in the past three years.

OUTsurance released statements last Tuesday acknowledging receiving claims calls or enquiries from policyholders following the catastrophic weather event.

In an emailed response to Moneyweb’s questions, the insurer said it was too early to quantify the impact of the storm on the business. It did, however, acknowledge higher claim volumes following the storm.

Hail season

Summertime is historically hail season in the northern parts of South Africa. Last year, Santam paid out more than R1 billion in hail- and weather-related claims on the personal insurance portfolio alone.

In a media statement released in September, Santam said that as climate patterns shift, the frequency and severity of hailstorms are likely to increase.

A 2022 report by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation highlights that over the past 12 years, South Africa has endured the most extreme weather events out of all African countries, with 33 disaster events between 2010 and 2022.

The study also found that South Africa is the only African country affected by five out of the six types of extreme weather events analysed – droughts, floods, landslides, extreme temperature, storms, and wildfires.

Santam’s head of Client Solutions Underwriting, Attie Blaauw, says: “Hail is an extremely destructive natural weather pattern. Hailstones can measure up to 7cm in diameter, so it is easy to see why so much irreparable damage is done to vehicles and property.”

Blaauw says the cost to repair and replace vehicles varies according to the severity of the storm and whether the damage can be repaired without spraypainting.

“Not only are the costs crippling, but the repair process can take months, depending on the availability of car parts and the capacity of approved motor body repairers,” he adds.

Statistics show an average of six to eight hail days each year in parts of Gauteng and Lesotho, the eastern Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, and Mpumalanga.

Minimise damage to your vehicle

Blaauw has the following advice if you are caught in a hailstorm while driving:

  • Drive slowly – slower driving minimises the hail damage and is safer on slippery roads.
  • Locate a safe covered area or pull over under an overpass, provided it is safe to do so.
  • Undercover parking at malls and petrol stations are good temporary solutions to protecting your car during a hailstorm.
  • Stay inside the vehicle. Large hail stones pose a personal injury threat.
  • Keep fleecy blankets in your boot so you can cover your car to minimise the impact of hail. If you don’t have blankets, put the floor mats on the roof and hood to cover at least some of the vehicle, to help minimise the cost of dent repairs.
  • Take careful note of the extent of the damage to your car – look for damage to all glass items, including side mirrors, tail-lights, and headlights. Taking pictures may be useful when you claim.

Prevention at home

Blaauw says you should keep your gutters clean and free of debris. Hail takes a while to melt, and an overflowing gutter could lead to a leaking roof and further damage. Hail build-up is also heavy, so make sure that the guttering is sound.

Trimming trees close to your house helps to remove branches that can cause severe damage during a storm.

During a hailstorm, close the curtains, blinds, or shutters to prevent broken window glass and hailstones from entering your home and injuring you or your family. Park your car in the garage or in a sheltered undercover area.