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Overflowing bath claimant wins partial payout

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A man whose bathwater overflowed, causing the ceiling directly under his bathroom to collapse, has been awarded the cost of tile repairs and compensation for stress and inconvenience to the whole family in a claim dispute.

The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) ruled partially in favour of the homeowner, though it rejected his request that Suncorp recarpet the whole area upstairs so all rooms matched, or that it pay for sanding, polishing and varnishing wooden flooring in the downstairs office and formal dining room, which were not damaged.

The homeowner made a claim in November 2018 under a home and contents policy held with Suncorp. This was accepted but he was dissatisfied with the handling of the claim and went to AFCA .

Suncorp should pay the man $2600 for repair of the damaged bathroom tiles, AFCA ruled, and $4000 compensation after numerous errors were made over the course of the claims process which “caused the man and his family considerable stress and inconvenience over an extensive period of time”.

Suncorp acknowledged errors were made and apologised to the man, saying in a letter in June last year it took from December 16 2018 until March 1 2019 for it to respond to the homeowner’s concerns.

“Assurances were incorrectly made whereby the damaged carpet could have been matched,” Suncorp admitted, and “following repairs, tradespersons neglected to return various items of furniture in your home which caused a high level of disruption”.

It offered to pay a total of $2273.04, which the man rejected, saying that along with incorrect advice and delays, Suncorp’s assessor behaved in an aggressive manner.

“The combined impact of the various errors by Suncorp and its representatives would have caused significant stress and inconvenience to the man and his family,”AFCA said.

Four months after the bath overflowed, a Suncorp-appointed plumber blamed a gap where the shower screen met the door for the tile damage and said there was deteriorating grout and creaking floor tiles in certain areas. Suncorp argued the bathroom tiles were compromised and so excluded from cover.

AFCA said this would not be the dominant cause of leaking water “to the extent that it would damage bathroom floor tiles and cause them to lift.”

“The plumber’s report provides no proper explanation as to whether the leakage from the shower would have caused the damage to the bathroom tiles,” it said.

The bath overflow damaged a carpeted area outside the bathroom on the landing at the top of stairs. Suncorp covered replacement of carpet for this area but the homeowner complained that it did not match the adjoining rooms and wanted Suncorp to cover these rooms as well.

AFCA sided on this point with Suncorp, which said the policy only covered undamaged carpet where it is in the same room, stairs, hallway or passageway.

After the overflow, the downstairs lounge, living room, hallway, entry and kitchen flooring was repaired. The man also wanted Suncorp to pay the cost of sanding, polishing and varnishing wooden flooring in the office and formal dining room, which were not damaged.

The policy stated Suncorp will only repair areas damaged because of the insured incident. AFCA said Suncorp had correctly applied its policy terms.

“The policy will not cover replacement of undamaged parts of the building to create a uniform appearance,” it said.

See the full ruling here.