The incident at the Douglas Village Shopping Centre is an exceptional one, one which insurance sources and loss assessors we spoke to struggled to put a timeframe on, writes Cianan Brennan.
Q. What happens now?
For starters, multiple insurers, policies, and vested interests are involved.
The shopping centre owners will need to consult with their own insurers and every insurance provider with a stake in the 60 or so vehicles that were either badly damaged or entirely gutted will also have to be consulted. But it’s clear that wrapping the whole incident up will take an extended period of time, possibly months. One loss assessor said:
“It’s not a couple of days anyway. There is a process to this, every insurer will have to be got out and brought through the whole building. It could run on for a number of months."
Q. What is the most important issue?
Probably what caused the fire in the people carrier which kickstarted the blaze, as that will determine who is principally liable. One loss assessor said: “It all depends on how it started. If the car just went on fire, which can happen, then the building owner has no negligence case to answer and the car insurance will kick in.
The make of the car may have a history of such incidents. Meanwhile, the building owner will have a block policy to handle such incidents.”
Q. Do the owners of undamaged cars have any recourse due to not being able to use their vehicles?
Yes, in all likelihood they do. Insurance sources we spoke to were unanimous in saying that an affected party’s first port of call should be to their individual insurer.
“They’ll have contingencies if your car is trapped,” is the prevailing opinion. At least two insurers have held up the veracity of this with statements of their own.
Axa Insurance said it will provide free car hire for all affected customers, regardless of whether their car has been damaged or not. No-claims-bonuses will be unaffected if a car is merely trapped, the insurer said.
Aviva Ireland meanwhile said it will be providing asimilar service for people with trapped vehicles for a period of up to10 days, again with their no-claims-bonus to remain unaffected.
Q. When am I likely to get my car back?
Due to the structural damage sustained by the building, which was primarily localised to the first floor where the fire broke out but which has “compromised” access ramps and the steel infrastructure between floors, undamaged cars parked on higher levels are currently inaccessible.
That will most likely necessitate the use of a specialist crane in order to extract those vehicles, but timelines for its use are not yet available.
Due to the complex nature of the incident, structural engineers’ reports, fire safety inspections,general safety plans and other technical data with regard to the building's integrity are currently being compiled. That all takes time.
Q. Will insurers be protected from liability due to the bizarre circumstances surrounding the fire?
Unlikely. While the incident appears unique on the surface, cars do go on fire quite frequently, though generally while on the road.
Force majeure, or act of god - the legal principle which applies to unforeseeable incidents which remove liability from the hands of insurers - is not likely to apply.
Q. When will the building be open for business?
“Interim payments will run through, but that itself could take a bit of time,” one loss assessor said.
“Business owners are in a tight spot because they’re trying to see when they can open again,” one insurance source said.
“But this is an unusual event. Generally, with large scale incidents such as flooding or snow damage you know intuitively what information you’re looking for. That isn’t the case here,” they added.