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Chubb’s TV hell: victims and villains, or smoke and mirrors?

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A late-night message to insuranceNEWS.com.au’s Facebook page suggested something was up.

“Just watched A Current Affair… You pack of scumbags, the lowest of the low.”

The Nine Network’s flagship current affairs program had insurance in its sights again, and it wasn’t pretty.

Beaconsfield mine disaster hero Darren Flanagan, now running a camping store in Nowra NSW, had fallen on hard times thanks to fires, floods and COVID-19 – and his insurer, Chubb, had declined his $100,000 business interruption claim.

Cue carefully crafted emotive soundbites.

Mr Flanagan explained how everyone has rushed to his aid – except his insurer.

“The only people that haven’t helped me at all is the people that I’ve paid insurance to for years, thinking that when it really came to it, they would be the ones there to help me – and they ran a mile.

“I just want them to do what they said they’d do.

“We’re trustworthy, we’re a good family in town, and we thought that this insurance company was trustworthy too.”

Ouch. Saving miners trapped deep underground is apparently “far easier” than dealing with Chubb.

Nine’s reporter got in on the act too, screwing up and throwing away a copy of Chubb’s initial response – that the insurer sympathises with Mr Flanagan but his policy “does not provide cover for the circumstances he has experienced” – with a flourish.

“We have just gone through what they said today was the worst fires in Australian history, a terrible flood and a global pandemic,” he said. “If you’re not covered for that as an interruption – what are you covered for?”

Good question, and one he didn’t bother asking anyone to answer. The reporter’s summary of the situation – you paid for insurance and your takings are down so you should be able to claim – is a gross simplification of a highly complex issue.

Legal experts across the world are wrestling with how business interruption cover should respond to COVID-19, and insuranceNEWS.com.au has reported an Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) ruling on a similar bushfire-related matter.

In this case the small business lost its dispute over a business interruption claim after losing more than $150,000 in profit when thick smoke from bushfires on SA’s Kangaroo Island in January deterred tourists.

As always, it comes down to the specific circumstances of the loss and the precise wording of the policy.

As for Mr Flanagan’s claim, his TV coverage had the desired effect.

Australians rushed to donate to his cause and Chubb found itself forced to act. Still insisting the policy did not respond and refusing to pay the claim, the insurer nevertheless came to a confidential “commercial arrangement” with Mr Flanagan that he was happy with.

The family home was saved, so all’s well that ends well. Or is it?

Mr Flanagan’s actions in 2006 were clearly heroic. It was sad to see him brought so low by circumstances outside his control, and inspiring to see fellow Australians come to his aid. It’s also possible – despite Chubb’s insistence – that his claim should have been paid.

But by not carrying out a proper analysis of Mr Flanagan’s circumstances and his insurance policy wording, A Current Affair passed up an opportunity to contribute real insight on the debate over business interruption coverage.

But then meaningful discussion of complex issues isn’t compelling television. Ratings achieved through “human interest” – preferably with a victim and a villain – are what A Current Affair is about.

In its rush to condemn, the program didn’t attempt to tell the full story. insuranceNEWS.com.au understands that – despite the clear implication in the program – Mr Flanagan’s claim related purely to bushfires, and not floods or COVID-19.

Had his dispute gone through AFCA we could at least be assured that experts had reviewed all the circumstances of the claim. We would then have ended up with an emotion-free analysis of the facts, and lessons that could be learned.

As it is we’re still no closer – and probably never will be – to knowing whether the policy should have responded, and no one can say what Mr Flanagan’s experience means for others facing similar scenarios without the profile to justify prime-time TV coverage.

The real problem with the sort of skewed public floggings A Current Affair specialises in is that Chubb isn’t the only one to be affected by a report like this. The reputation of the whole industry (even those that write about it) was smeared.

Our Facebook troll was not put off even after insuranceNEWS.com.au responded that it does not sell insurance policies.

“So what… It was a big issue on national TV. Everyone saw what a pack of scumbags you are. What a low act, it’s spreading all over Facebook. Chubb does not honour their policies. We all saw it on A Current Affair.”

Whatever Chubb’s motive in reaching a confidential “arrangement” with Mr Flanagan that had him belatedly singing the insurer’s praises – it will be interpreted by the program and its viewers solely as capitulation. That’s sad, because such coverage impacts on the public’s view of insurers and on claims professionals who take pride in their work.

A Current Affair did not tell the whole story – far from it. It was an opportunity lost.