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Storm claim rejected after roof defects found

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Westpac General Insurance has won a dispute over a claim for home water damage after a storm as it was found the roof had pre-existing problems with cracked and dislodged tiles.

The claim was submitted following severe weather last January, but the policy did not cover damage resulting from hail, wind, snow or rain entering the building through an opening not created by a storm or other insured event.

There was also a general exclusion for damage arising from building defects, and a failure to maintain the property and keep it watertight.

The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) says the evidence shows damage from water ingress, but the question was whether the storm itself was the relevant cause or whether it was another factor.

The insurer's builder found tiles above a bedroom had become dislodged as a result of a roof batten broken due to age, and possibly also due to foot traffic from a solar installation. The builder also later clarified that the batten when installed had “insufficient seating onto the rafter” of only a couple of millimetres which caused a weakening of the joint.

The complainant’s builder had also found six roof battens that were not aligned with the centre of the top chord, leading to damage to tiles and leakage affecting two bedrooms, the hallway, toilet, laundry and study area.

“The available evidence does not show there was a storm-created opening in the roof through which the rainwater entered and damaged the interior of the home,” AFCA says.

“Nor is there any other compelling evidence that establishes the damage to the roof itself, tiles or roof battens, was from a storm.”

AFCA says the roof had pre-existing issues with cracked and dislodged tiles arising, on balance, from failings with the roof battens, and the insurer is entitled to deny the claim.

“It would not be fair to require the insurer to pay for a claim which does not fall within the scope of cover under the policy,” it says.

The decision is available here.