The home in Copenhagen St, Tiaro, that was destroyed by fire in November, 2009.
The home in Copenhagen St, Tiaro, that was destroyed by fire in November, 2009. Jocelyn Watts

Hopes crushed by QBE

QBE Insurance has been savaged in Federal Parliament over its decision not to pay out on a 2009 house fire claim by a Tiaro family.

The family is claiming that roof insulation installed just three hours before their house went up was the prime cause of the fire and Federal Member for Wide Bay, Warren Truss, has taken up their case.

Mr Truss made an impassioned speech in parliament on Tuesday night after the family told him that QBE had knocked back their claim.

QBE said they thoroughly investigated the fire and the final report revealed the insulation played no part in the fire.

Billeena Chapman, Ricky Walker and their six children were left destitute and homeless and without any possessions after the fire in November, 2009, and have since lived in a tent, a shed and in emergency accommodation in Maryborough.

The Walker family's home was uninsured, but the company that did the installation was required to have insurance cover for the work they were doing under the scheme.

Mr Truss has fought for 18 months to try to gain some compensation for the family.

He claims that they lost their home because of the Federal Government's bungled Home Insulation Program.

He called QBE's decision to deny the family compensation "disappointing".

"It is just the kind of action that gives insurance companies a bad name," he told parliament on Tuesday.

"QBE is asking me to believe that it is just a co-incidence that a 100-year-old house burnt down just three hours after insulation was installed.

"Only a cold hearted, uncaring, ruthless, out of touch, multinational corporation could treat a poor battling family like this.

"I am disgusted with QBE and again I appeal to the company to reconsider their rejection of Mr Walker's claim and help this family to get a new start."

An email exchange between Queensland Fire and Rescue officers on September 6, 2010, seemed to point to insulation as the cause of the fire, stating: "On the balance of probabilities (it is more likely than not), this fire was a direct result of the installation of ceiling insulation. Queensland Fire and Rescue cannot make a more conclusive determination".

The fire started in the laundry area where the electrical switchbox was located.

"If the installation of the insulation interfered with this old home's wiring - cables were disturbed, broken, stapled, cut or shorted - I think it is reasonable to conclude it could have caused a fire to begin in the switchbox," Mr Truss said.

"Such was the intensity of the blaze, Queensland Fire and Rescue were unable to determine the ignition factor."

He said it was not too late for the insurers to do the right thing for the Walker family.

"Today, I again urge QBE to have a heart. It's not too late to do what is patently obvious and pay the Walker family's claim," Mr Truss said.

A spokeswoman for QBE said the company had undertaken a number of investigations at the request of Mr Walker and Mr Truss.

"Based on the findings of these investigations - which included comprehensive forensic work, factual reports and witness reports - QBE has determined that the fire was not a result of the insulation installed in Mr Walker's home earlier that day," she said.

"We remain open to reviewing any new information, and continue to seek any factual evidence which may enable us to reconsider the findings of our investigations to date."

Premier Anna Bligh weighed in on the debate yesterday, saying the family's circumstances were clearly tragic. "I would encourage them if they haven't already done so to be taking their case to the insurance ombudsman," she said.


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