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Thoughts on Peace of Mind and Anniversaries

April 29, 2013

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of our taking possession of this property. At the time that we bought it my wife was pregnant with a child that we knew was going to have some serious medical complications as she had been previously diagnosed with congenital heart defect. Our thought was that a revenue property provided a way to potentially supplement our income so she could stay home and care for our daughter.

Today is the fifth anniversary of that daughter being born. Her name was Anika and she was born five weeks premature. The circumstances of her birth, which are a fairly long story, greatly complicated her medical conditions and made her life much more challenging. She passed away at Christmas time of that year at only eight months old. Today Anika would have been five years old.

We are rapidly approaching 10 month time-frame since the fire in the building. This blog outlines some of what that fire and subsequent insurance issues entail and what a nightmare this has all become. I have been remiss for a while in updating this blog with details / facts but will do that soon, and you will be able to see for yourself the positions both sides have and make your own judgement based on the facts of what you think should be right.

A great part of my frustration at the moment is that this is not a battle that I think I should have to fight. With our daughter, we took the statistical hit for a lot of people, and what we experienced was beyond the control of us, and ultimately the doctors as well. With this building, we bought insurance like many people buy insurance to get peace of mind and to be protected if tragedy should strike.

Well, tragedy did strike us again, this time on the building. Our family fought as hard as we could for our daughter and in the end it was not enough to change the outcome. For this building we had bought insurance with Saskatchewan Mutual Insurance, aka SMI at the time we bought the property for all the same reasons everyone else buys insurance when they get a mortgage – to cover a loss in the event of tragedy and to have peace of mind. Yet here I am in a very different place, expending time and money toward an adequate settlement and simultaneously being sued for defamation by the insurance company.

I invite your comments and encourage you to share so that others don’t have to experience a similar nightmare.

Bee with Ribbon in Hair

The Bittersweet Cheque (Cancelled Insurance Premium Refund)

March 20, 2013

The other day I was looking for something on my Saskatchewan Insurance Nightmare file and realized that I still had this cheque lying around. This was dated October 17th and was more than three months after the fire.  At the time I recall I was desperately trying to get someone’s attention and maybe a little understanding that, as a single income family, we were having to carry the mortgage on this four-plex without any income from renters as a result of the fire. We were initially told by the ClaimsPro Adjuster that we were not getting paid lost rental income, which we had to dispute. After finally receiving acknowledgement that we were in fact insured for lost rental income in our policy with Saskatchewan Mutual Insurance, aka SMI, it was now three months after the fire and we had not yet received any funds.

One day somebody came to the house and when I saw they had an envelope from SMI I was hopeful that my pleas were being answered. As I opened the envelope, it was apparent that there was a cheque enclosed and for a brief moment I was feeling grateful that they had made arrangements to get a cheque delivered to me without any further delay.

It turns out that the cheque that was enclosed was only for a premium refund – SMI was cancelling the insurance on my building with 5 days notice and this premium refund. I had the opportunity to meet the Saskatchewan Minister of Justice and some people from his ministry and one of the topics I have raised are some recommendations for change to the Saskatchewan Insurance Act. That dialog is just beginning, but one of the first changes I would propose is that it should in future be against the law for an insurance company to cancel somebody’s insurance policy in the middle of a claim.

There should be some legislation and process that covers all insurance companies to ensure that insurance can’t be cancelled as a punitive measure, as leverage, or as retribution, since an insurance company would undoubtedly know that cancelling somebody’s insurance makes it no easy task for somebody to get new insurance somewhere else. The insurance company holds all of the leverage on this aspect and there should be more consumer protection built into the Saskatchewan Insurance Act.

I almost let this check become stale-dated and that would have been a real shame – at least this check will buy me something. When I look at this cheque though it was a stark reminder of just how this process has gone so it was one of the most bittersweet deposits I have ever made.

 

SMI Check_blanked

Short Update / Further Update Coming

February 26, 2013

I know it has been quite some time since i have posted an update on this page and I would like to thank the people who have reached out and sent in words of support and encouragement. While I haven’t posted an update in some time, this blog continues to have a life of its own. The defamation suit seems to have attracted its own kind of attention and interest, with some parties especially interested in consumers, experiences and the internet / social media relative to companies and their service, their response, their brand and public relations in general. I never intended to be a case study.

 

I was holding off with an update because there was some hope after a positive and unsolicited move by SMI to move this forward to resolution. Trying to get back to dialog and toward resolution, we sent a letter back to SMI acknowledging and thanking them for a positive step forward. We then provided also some new information, requested clarification on something they sent, and finally proposed some principles we think stand up to fair scrutiny and industry precedent  that could get us moving quickly toward resolution. This had to do with the principles of calculation / application of depreciation percentage / dollars on the repair on an Actual Cash Value Basis. This letter was sent January 30, 2012 and we have not yet received a response.

 

 

Again, thanks for the support and as this saga unfolds, there will be additional updates to follow soon.   

SMI Policyholders Call for Change / Special General Meeting

December 20, 2012

What if your home / property had a major fire? What do you expect, what do you want to happen next? My real nightmare began after an arsonist’s fire was extinguished in my four-plex and my claim with Saskatchewan Mutual Insurance (aka SMI) began. If how your claim gets handled in case of a catastrophe is of any concern to you, you should get involved now.

I accidentally had to become more familiar with the Saskatchewan Insurance Act than I ever cared to, but as a result of what I learned, I am appealing to SMI policyholders to join in calling a special general meeting of SMI to make changes to SMI policies, procedures, and governance to make sure that nobody else has to have the same experience.  The changes I am proposing will inject more transparency and accountability into the process and will apply lessons learned to benefit all SMI policyholders in future. The form I have been gathering signatures on with the proposed changes is posted here – if you are an SMI policyholder please fill one out and sent it back to me by e-mail at brandtst[AT]shaw.ca or communicate directly with me via the form at the bottom of this post. Feel free to share with friends by social media as well.

SMI Formal Request Form_Final

SMI Policyholders are the OWNERS of SMI and the Leadership of SMI should work for you in the manner you want them to. YOU can decide and change how SMI handles member claims. If you read my story, I bet you would not want a similar experience so I am proposing that you join as an owner in proactively changing policies, procedures and governance to serve you and your fellow members in the manner you choose to be served. In the end, this whole experience can turn into a positive one for everybody but for now, my nightmare continues and I hope for the advocacy of other members as well. You should hear more about this special general meeting in the near future and I greatly encourage you to get very much involved.

CKOM News ran the following story yesterday on the air and on their website which included that SMI has also served up a Statement of Claim against me and my family for $150,000. See the article on-line by clicking HERE.

Our family is nearing the 4th anniversary of our daughter’s death at Christmas 2008 and there is nothing I can do to save anyone from that kind of loss. We head into Christmas this year facing a new loss and threat of still more loss. At least in this situation there is something I can do and there is a way in which we can help and protect one another in the case of material loss from fire / flood or anything else.  Your help for resolution and change would be our Christmas wish!

Merry Christmas and God bless!

 

CKOM: Saskatoon landlord involved in insurance battle and lawsuit

December 20, 2012

CKOM: Saskatoon landlord involved in insurance battle and lawsuit

CKOM News ran with this the following story on the air and on their website yesterday, Wednesday December 19th, 2012.

My SMI experience – Would YOU want the same?

December 14, 2012

I am going to be proposing getting many SMI policyholders to use their voices and votes as members of a MUTUAL Insurance Company to change many of SMI’s policies and procedures because I suspect you agree that you would not want what has happened to me, to happen to you.  If you read this blog and feel that you would not want this to happen to you, YOU can change it! If you would not want an insurance company that you partly own (as a member of a mutual insurance company you ARE an owner) to work this way. YOU can change it. I am willing to fully disclose anything you wish to see and answer any question you may have so that you can be confident that I am not just a crazed upset customer, but someone just like you – trying to care for a family and hoping that tragedy doesn’t strike. You have insurance to protect your greatest assets and your livelihood.

Please check out the following video appeal I made and the notes below. I need your help so please sign up below so I can meet you in Saskatoon one-on-one, or in one of the information sessions I will be conducting December 19th at 8:00am, 10:00am and 12:30am. I offer full disclosure and to answer any of your questions but I need your help and signature to be able to make changes at SMI that will benefit you and all other SMI policyholders in future as well as to get my claim handled differently. I am nearing the 4th anniversary of our daughter’s death at Christmas 2008 and your help to get this resolved without more stress and grief, would be our Christmas miracle!

See the short video here:  Appeal

Throughout this blog and summarized below I have stated facts that I can readily substantiate (truth is my only protection against defamation).  You don’t have to be a Christian to believe in some form of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. I appeal to your sense of justice and if you see any wrong done here, I am hoping to solicit your help to make it right. Please respond or sign up for one of my information sessions via the box at the bottom of this post. So we can connect. I thank you from the bottom of my heart!

-First response from the Claims Adjuster was that a) the claim would be settled on an Actual Cash Value basis; b) I would be responsible for the movement and work done o the appliances; and c) I would NOT be getting Lost rental income. On inquiry the Adjuster had not even seen my coverage statement. I had to send the coverage statement and get the broker to help explain at least part of the policy with respect to confirming coverage for lost rental income and coverage for appliances / contents up to $3,000 per suite.

-With regard to Actual Cash Value versus Replacement Cost, there is some question as to how a policy is interpreted and I would be happy to share with anyone who asks what to really watch out for. There is a bit of circular insurance-speak in the policy that can be interpreted one way or another and obviously great caution and care is needed. The short story is that if you apply for one kind of insurance and end up with a completely different level of protection, you would want that to be very clearly expressed, would you not?

-I approached a member of the SMI Board of Directors to help and intervene, only to be told by SMI’s lawyer that “We are advising that the Board members do not wish to be involved in discussions respecting the Brandt claim, and accordingly, we ask that such communication cease”. Read prior pages – my attempts to communicate or escalate about this loss and liabilities went unanswered. What would YOU do?

-When a check for lost rental income was finally being prepared (something for which I had insurance for), the amount was reduced because apparently I “did not return the paid July rent to the tenants of Unit #3 or #4″. If you are a landlord, you know that the Landlord Tenancies people would be all over me if I did not pay those tenants their rent back! So what business is it of theirs since I am insured for this – should their assistance not be expected to help ensure that I am protected from undue financial hardship? Even after offering proof to the contrary and explaining multiple times that I am a single income family trying to carry this additional mortgage; no further response has been received.   What would YOU expect for timeliness and consideration in this situation when you have insurance for this?

-Appliances: First, recall that my policy is supposed to cover appliances up to $3,000 per suite. After the fire and some dispute on coverage, the appliances were moved to Professional Appliance Repair and tested. In SMI’s settlement offer, they stated that “all appliances save for the coin-operated washer and dryer, were old and not working.” Accordingly, SMI is prepared to offer cash settlement of $250 for each of the non-working appliances, 4 fridges and 3 stoves for a total of $1,750. Given the age of the appliances, SMI is of the belief that the figure is fair.” First off, I have tenants that can attest to the fact that EVERY appliance was working – if you are a landlord, you know how fast a tenant will call if an appliance breaks down and how quickly the Rentalsman would get involved if an appliance was not very quickly repaired. There was no inquiry made, how can someone put in writing that ALL the appliances were not functioning and not question that thought process at all? Then look t the video in the basement – there are three additional stoves and one additional fridge, as well as a dishwasher and two air conditioning units, none of which were mentioned.

-The repair / offer: SMI provided an estimated from First On Site that shows it would cost $230,505 to repair the building. SMI then wants to deduct 20% OH&P (overhead and profit) first, and then to apply 35% depreciation (the number was 38% but SMI states that after careful consideration, to expedite settlement, they will use a factor of 35%)  across the board to the repair leaving $120,463 as their cash settlement offer to me. Imagine your property experienced $230,000 damage from a fire and your insurance company arrives at a proposed settlement of $120,463 to fix it?

-Costs not covered – An obvious omission was that there was no electrical included in the estimate and I had a contractor come on site to assess the costs of repairing the electrical. Based on the current state of the building, there is no option now but to completely redo the electrical throughout the building at an estimated $50,000 cost. Additionally, the fire alarm and detection system that was renewed and re-certified within the last year has been all ripped out and would need to be replaced at an additional estimated cost of $10,000. When I inquired about the absence of electrical costs on the estimate, the answer from SMI’s lawyer was that “the reason no electrical work is contained in the repair quotations  is that any electrical work is necessitated, not by the damage to the property, but by the requirement that the electrical system be upgraded to conform with current building code.” When I shared this news with any of the contractors I had look at the place (see the pictures for yourself), they were in disbelief that SMI would take this position.

-Insurance cancelled: I had someone come to my home in Calgary to serve me with papers and as I saw that it was from SMI and opened it, it looked like a check. I was for an instant thankful that maybe they had tried to finally rush a long-awaited and promised check for lost rental income.  It was instead a check to return the remainder of my premiums and a notice of insurance policy cancellation. Really, that was the most important step at the time was to add insult to injury? I understand we don’t want to do business with each other in the future but in light of all the issues outstanding, their greatest action to date was to be more hurtful. By the way, ask around how easy it is to get a place insured where you have had your policy cancelled by an insurance company, and you have no idea what the state or the value of the place is.

-What do you expect an insurance company to do with your property after a fire? I really don’t know who did what, or what anyone was instructed to do, but here’s what is evident: After the fire, ClaimsPro was the adjuster on behalf of SMI. They brought in First On Site to do some initial work.  I don’t know what YOU would expect to happen, but take a look at the pictures and video (see other posts). The point of origin of the fire looks very much like it would have right after the fire: The joists that have been compromised were untouched (i.e. not repaired, reinforced or cleaned), and the debris from the fire is still exactly where it was. The pictures will show the damage done throughout the building, with the worst damage happening at the top floor, furthest away from the fire. I brought a contractor with me from Alberta to see how we could restore the building in the most economical way possible so that we could try and come to an equitable settlement. After he and other contractors saw the building / pictures however, there is no way for me to try to mitigate my costs. The only option now is a complete inner rebuild with all new materials so my argument was that my costs were escalated way beyond what they perhaps needed to be and since SMI is wanting to settle on an Actual Cash Value basis, that means additional costs well beyond the initial damage and beyond what I can afford (since insurance is offering so little) have been incurred. Seriously, just take a look at the pictures and you will see for yourself. Between SMI / ClaimsPro and First On Site the locks had been changed to the building so neither any of my tenants nor I had access to the place until just prior to these pictures being taken. The scene was so remarkable and unbelievable; you would never believe me unless I posted pictures and video. When we referenced the additional damage, the response from SMI’s lawyer was “the mention of the damage which arose after the fire. If the damage arose while the SMI policy was in force, please provide details so that our client can open a new claim file and investigate the matter fully.” So they had secured the building and it was fully in their control. What would YOU think of this outcome and response?

Media / Direct contact: Steven phone: 403-828-4544 and e-mail: brandtst[at]shaw.ca

 

SMI Directors: Do they represent you?

November 28, 2012

Does the Board of Directors at Saskatchewan Mutual Insurance, aka SMI represent you? As a Mutual Insurance Company as opposed to other shareholder-owned insurance companies, all policyholders should have interest that the Directors represent them – the policyholders. Since they influence the organization, they should reflect the values and principles of you – the members, the policyholders, the owners.

In my frustration and disbelief in how difficult it was for me to get help / response / answers with my insurance claim with SMI I looked up and reached out to one of the Directors of SMI, one who also happens to be a Director on the Conduct Review Committee (shall remain unnamed for now).  I thought that something MUST have gone off the rails and if I could petition someone with influence I could help to get this back on the rails again at an early stage. I contacted this Director  (see below) initially on August 3rd, on the one-month anniversary of the fire. First I telephoned this Director and had a brief conversation to make a plea for some assistance and intervention, which was then followed up by an e-mail (see below).  I did not receive a response, follow-up or any indication that anything more came from this. When we surpassed three months and a new level of frustration I sent a follow-up e-mail (below). I don’t think I was being unreasonable in my request (you be the judge).

Hoping for assistance, what I received instead was the following statement from SMI’s lawyer: “We have been informed that Mr. Brandt has attempted to initiate dialogue with one or more members of the Board of Directors of Saskatchewan Mutual Insurance Company.  We are advised that the Board members do not wish to be involved in discussions respecting the Brandt claim, and accordingly, we would ask that such communication cease.”

I would like to assemble a number of SMI policyholders towards implementing changes in policy and governance within SMI that will better protect and serve all policyholders in future. Because SMI is a mutual insurance company, policyholders have the power to enact such changes. I would suggest to put forward a model that is representative of all policyholders, and one that is fair and transparent. I would propose a Member Review Panel based on a model used by another insurance company that reads as follows:

“The panel consists of volunteer policyholders that represent our customer base and will look at your concern with fresh eyes, an open mind and work towards a solution to the problem that is fair. The panel brings a client perspective to the concern being reviewed. Decisions of the panel are binding on us but not on you. In other words, you are not giving up any of your rights by appealing to the panel.”

If you are an SMI policyholder and you agree and are willing to join in promoting this change please contact me in confidence via the form below and I will provide additional details. Below please find the communication I sent (Director name withheld for now).

From: S B. (me)

Sent: October-09-12 3:17 PM
To: ‘xxxxxx’ {Director’s contact info removed)
Subject: FW: copy of policy (SMI)

Dear {Director’s contact info removed);

I sent you this original e-mail on August 3rd frustrated with a month’s time of making no progress after a fire at my four-plex that transpired July 3rd, 2012. I was hoping that as a member of the of the Conduct Review Committee on the Board of Directors at SMI that you might look into this and see what failure in process may have transpired. To date I have not received any additional response from SMI other than that Dallas Jess from ClaimsPro was the assigned adjuster in this case (in a voice mail from Lynn July 12th).

As my wife and I were discussing this during a family Thanksgiving gathering, she (and frankly anyone else who ask us for updates) is absolutely incredulous that there isn’t some reason for the delay and the lack of service and action we have received thus far from SMI. Was there some strange catastrophic failure of process in this instance? She could not believe that we didn’t at least get something to the effect of ‘this is what to expect now that you have had a loss’. The only update I have been able to get from Dallas at ClaimsPro thus far have all been on my pursuit – there has not been one single update or action initiated by him.

After finally getting acknowledgement that I do in fact have loss of rental income and that the request has been submitted to payment from SMI, we are not at three months since the fire that our single income family has had to carry another large mortgage with no additional income. I hope you can appreciate this is precisely why people buy insurance, to have ‘peace of mind’ as the SMI Annual Report states.  If you imagine that burden being carried by your own friends or family, I hope I could incite a bit of empathy with our situation and that is only the short-term financial burden. On a longer term basis our family is financially in complete limbo, not knowing what manner or amount SMI will  honour this policy, how long this will take, or what the outcome might be. We don’t know if we can still hope for security and ‘Peace of mind’,  or if this will end up in a long and protracted battle.

My hope is that the right thing can transpire still quickly and that perhaps some terrible error in process has transpired and that it might be corrected very soon. A timely response (or hopefully not a lack of one) from SMI or yourself will validate which story is accurate and what assumptions we should make going forward.

I await your reply please or your assistance to review this as part of your Conduct Review responsibility.

Sincere thanks,

S B. (me)

(Contact info was removed)

From: S B (me)
Sent: August-03-12 9:32 AM
To: ‘xxxxxx’ {Director’s contact info removed)
Subject: FW: copy of pollicy

Dear {Director’s contact info removed);

Thank you for your time on the telephone a few moments ago. As a member of the Board of Directors at SMI and a member of the Conduct Review Committee, I am hoping you will clearly agree that the way I have been treated thus far is not at all congruent with SMI’s stated mission.

A copy of my policy is attached. Additionally, I was so frustrated last night that I simply had to get the details out of my mind and put them on a blog, so you can read the entire history at http://saskatchewaninsurancenightmare.com

I tried to ensure that facts and details are stated as facts and details and those which are my feelings are clearly delineated as such. I just get that information posted last night and was debating when / how / if to publicize it.

Thank you! My contact information is below.

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