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Homeowner awarded cover for earthquake damage

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A homeowner has won his dispute claim against Youi after an Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) ruling determined that last year's Victorian earthquake caused his garage ceiling to collapse.

The insurer is required to pay the homeowner $4356 plus interest after he successfully challenged the claim denial.

The complainant said last September’s earthquake created significant cracking in one corner of his garage ceiling, leading to parts collapsing.

An engineer appointed by Youi, referred to as CR, provided a report on October 14 last year that said other factors caused the cracking, including aging material, inadequate repairs of ceiling lines, and internal pressure within the plaster.

CR said that given the long distance between the property and the earthquake's epicenter, it was unlikely that seismic activity caused any structural damage to the house.

The engineer also raised the absence of back-blocking cement along the joints of the plasterboard sheets of the home and garage, which he says is inadequate with building standards.

The complainant admitted that the home had pre-existing deterioration, including cracking, but said there had been no damage to the garage ceiling. He provided photographs of the ceiling after the earthquake, showing it visibly dropping.

On December 14 last year, the claimant’s plasterer, referred to as MW, inspected the damage and said the earthquake created separations between the ceiling sheets and fixings that were “extremely dangerous” and advised the owner not to access the garage until it was repaired.

“What I found was the plaster had separated from the glue in around 20 places,” MW said in a letter from March 1 this year.

“It was quite clear that it had just happened, as you could tell from the dust marks and staining, all over the plaster.”

“It needed to be addressed straight away as it was a danger to the owners. I put up temporary props in to hold the ceiling up, and it looked like the lighting and garage door arms were the only things preventing the ceiling from falling.”

The complainant said that CR did not physically enter the ceiling area in the garage when he was assessing the wear due to accessibility issues.

MW, who entered the ceiling, said it was “necessary” to determine why it was falling and said the roof required temporary props to hold it up.

In response to CR’s report, he said the property did not require back blocking reinforcements when constructed in 1999 and was built to code.

AFCA ruled that Youi did not sufficiently establish that wear and tear or poor handiwork led to the damage.

It said the insurer could not deny the claim because CR did not inspect the roof area above the garage and instead relied upon having seen “thousands of sagging ceilings in garages, and the cause of the damage is inadequate fixing.”

It also said that the back blocking issue was not related to the garage ceiling but rather the ceiling above the dining area.

The ruling preferred the evidence provided by MW, who physically inspected the ceiling and agreed that the earthquake was the cause of the collapse.

AFCA determined that Youi would be required to pay the complaint’s cost of repairs, $4356, and additional interest from December 14 last year until the claim is settled.

Click here to read the full ruling.