Ignorance about insurance may cost you

"In general, it's important, no matter what you're insured for — your car, your home or your business — that you're aware of what's inside that policy," Steve Kee of the Insurance Bureau of Canada said. Getty Images

TORONTO – When Peter Meadows returned to his Calgary home after the recent floods, there was so much water in his basement that it reached the windows.

The water had gushed in from a drain in the floor and destroyed everything from the couches to the drywall.

Meadows estimates the bill will be anywhere from $60,000 to $100,000 to fix his basement, replace his belongings and buy a new furnace.

And it’s unclear if the insurance company is going to pay up.

As many flood victims in Alberta found out last month and Toronto residents discovered earlier this week, most insurance policies do not cover damages caused by flooding when water comes into homes through doors or windows or what is called overland flooding.

On Monday, a record rainfall led to flooded highways, streets and homes throughout the Toronto area. The water resulted in cancelled flights and public transit, bringing the city to a near-standstill.

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Steve Kee with the Insurance Bureau of Canada said the unfortunate reality is most people don’t know what their insurance covers.

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“In general, it’s important, no matter what you’re insured for — your car, your home or your business — that you’re aware of what’s inside that policy,” Kee said.

“If you don’t understand something… ask questions of your insurance representative.”

He said it’s important to divulge any special circumstances that you may think will have an effect on your insurance policy.

For instance, check to see if your standard home insurance will cover the daycare you operate out of your house or the woodworking shop you have set up in your garage.

The bureau suggests people should review their policies at least once a year, to determine if their situations have changed, or whether they have enough or too much coverage.

“Insurance policies are not just about signing it back and paying the deductible,” Kee said.

He also cautioned that insurance policies can differ by company, and paying less is not always a good deal if you’re not getting the coverage that you need.

“Shop around. People should be looking around if they’re not happy with what they’re paying,” he said.

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Fraser Lyle, the chairman of the Insurance Brokers Association of Canada, said whoever sells you your insurance policy is also responsible for telling you what exactly you’re buying.

“(Brokers) have to understand how the coverage works and have to explain in a very simplified way what the exposure may be,” he said.

“Being an active listener is key. The information that you’re sharing is for the benefit of the customer.”

Meadows said when he bought his house three months ago, he shopped around for a policy that included sewage flooding to cover damages if his pipes burst.

But after filing his claim, he found that his policy may not cover the most recent damages because even though the water may have come up through the drain, it was likely caused by the overland flooding.

“When I was setting up the policy, I specifically wanted coverage for the basement,” said the 31-year-old. “I felt like I asked the right questions.”

He said he doesn’t fault the company, but feels like the language in insurance policies could’ve been a bit clearer.

Meadows’ claim is still being reviewed, and a decision about whether he qualifies for coverage is pending.

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