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Are you covered for smoke and pollution?

On Friday 24 March 2017, an industrial warehouse in Rossburgh (Durban) caught fire and burned for over three days. Owing to the nature of the warehouse contents, its location (Durban South industrial basin) and strong prevailing winds, a massive black cloud of smoke quickly spread across the city of Durban. The smoke was quite a spectacle and news of it spread across social media quickly. Once the fire was brought under control and the cloud had passed, it became apparent that the cloud – like a giant slug – left a trail of pollution in its wake. Much of the city over which the cloud had moved was found coated in a layer of greasy dirt including buildings, vehicles and even gardens.

The affected property owners are now asking the unavoidable question: Will their building insurance policy cover the necessary cleaning expenses of their property following the contamination by the cloud of smoke? In short, most property insurance policies will not provide cover to the property owners in such a case.

The property or building insurance policy provides cover against physical damage to the insured property. Damage can be defined as – ‘physical harm that impairs the value, usefulness, or normal function of something’. Therefore, in order for a property insurance policy to respond to a claim the insured property must have suffered physical damage.

The question is: Did the resultant smoke pollution damaged the insured property? No, it did not.

The pollution only dirtied the property which is something that can be reasonably expected in an urban environment, although not quite as much as this smoke cloud caused. Unless the property owner is able to prove to their insurer that their property suffered physical damage, there is no claim against the property insurance policy.

In addition, most property insurance policies exclude cover for events such as seepage, oxidation, corrosion, contamination and pollution. On account of this, the pollution suffered as a result of the smoke cloud is not be covered under such a policy.

The unfortunate reality for most property owners is that the cleaning expenses they will incur will not be recoverable from their building insurance policy. If some property owners believe their property suffered physical damage, our advice is to employ the services of a qualified contractor to assess the property and provide a written report that confirms the cause and nature of the damage. This must presented to their insurers as a potential claim for their consideration.


Author:  Bruce Gibson, Addsure

Contact Addsure – The Leaders in Sectional Title Insurance – for fit and proper advice from advisors who understand Sectional Title. Contact us in Johannesburg (011) 704-3858; Durban (031) 459-1795; Cape Town (021) 551-5069