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Doctor plays waiting game with insurance company over Townsville floods

ABC Business logoABC Business 12/02/2019
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It's the follow-on devastation that no small business owner wants to think about — but one Townsville doctor is in limbo, waiting to hear whether his top-level insurance will even cover his practice.

Dr Michael Clements opened his practice, Fairfield Central Medical Practice, at the Fairfield Central Shopping Centre only three years ago.

He has the highest level of insurance available, and ticked every box, but said flood cover was not an option for his business — only storm damage.

If the insurance company's hydrologist decides the damage came from water coming from the ground up [flooding], instead of the roof down [storm damage], Dr Clements' practice will not be covered.

With hundreds of thousands of dollars damage to the entire practice, which has been gutted, Dr Clements said it was not only a direct impact on him and his business, but his employees, patients, and their families.

His first priority was getting an expert in to collect the most recent patient records.

Now, Dr Clements said he was in a holding pattern with his insurer.

"We don't know how long this is going to go on for — we're expecting a bit of a fight with the insurers," he said.

"Unfortunately, the insurers are looking at this as an opportunity not to pay out for our particular insurance policy … if the damage to our practice has come vertically from the top we're covered … but if they decide the water came from the bottom upwards, we're not covered."

His biggest concern was not for himself and his family, but his staff.

"I'm a small business owner as most general practices are, and the most heartbreaking thing really is the impact on my staff," he said.

"I have had to let staff go because we just can't look after them in this new environment."

He said his insurance company was providing its own hydrologist to make the final decision — something he was not "comfortable" with.

"If we know that the insurers are going to pay and get the builders in quick, I can re-employ people," he said.

"The Insurance Council chairman saying that everybody had flood cover available just isn't true — it wasn't even on offer, it wasn't part of the package that they would offer us."

"Apparently, a monsoon doesn't count as a storm."

He said it was incredibly disappointing, and frustrating for everyone paying high insurance premiums.

"I've got another business, I'll survive, my family will still eat, but I have staff," he said.

"We've got the pharmacy next to us which has really been pulling in extra hours trying to help the customers.

"Trying to provide support to them [customers] is really wearing them down."

Support needed for 'unprecedented event'

Owner of the Priceline Pharmacy, Christine Richardson, said she was hoping insurers would step up and help affected small businesses get back on their feet.

"I think this is an unprecedented event and what we need in this community, both for the community itself and local businesses, is we need unprecedented action and unprecedented support from government and insurers," she said.

"It's always a nerve-wracking time when there is so much at stake.

"My businesses is not only my family business, it employs more than 20 people, it's going to affect them and their families."

Ms Richardson said they have, on average, 400 people through the pharmacy every day, and she hoped to be back open as soon as possible.

"It's been a mammoth task," she said.

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