British Columbia

B.C. siblings sue insurance company after they say delays depleted claim

Five years after they sold the burnt remains of their home, Bruce and Patricia Mitchell are suing Intact insurance, alleging the company refused to pay a significant portion of their claim, due to delays it caused.

Bruce and Patricia Mitchell's East Vancouver duplex was gutted after being hit by a Roman candle in 2015

Patricia Mitchell and her brother Bruce Mitchell are pictured last week near their old house, which was burned and severely damaged by a firework nearly five years ago. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

With its layers of security fencing, plywood and scaffolding, the house at 2549 Woodland Dr. looks less like a dwelling and more like a hastily constructed fortress.

Still, Bruce Mitchell knows how far it's come.

"The house is really beautiful now," said Mitchell, 69. "But it's not mine."

On Oct. 29, 2015, the duplex at Woodland Drive and East 10th Avenue was gutted by flames after being struck by what investigators determined to be a roman candle.

Bruce and his sister Patricia Mitchell, 60, had hoped to restore the duplex, which they co-owned, to its former glory.

Bruce Mitchell, 69, says Intact would regularly fail to communicate updates about his insurance claim. (Christian Amundson / CBC)

Nearly five years later, they say they were forced to sell the lot — burnt house and all — because of excessive delays and poor communication from their home insurance provider, Intact.

The pair has filed a civil lawsuit against Intact, alleging the company refused to pay a significant portion of their $740,000 claim, citing costs that had accumulated over the two-and-half-years it took adjusters to assess the situation.

"We want to get on with our lives, and this is a financial hardship," said Patricia. "I was planning for retirement, but that's put on hold."

Climbing costs amid alleged delays

In March 2018, Intact informed the Mitchells that foundation and other repairs necessary to rebuild their duplex according to Vancouver bylaws would cost more than $500,000, and would not be covered under their policy, according to documents filed in B.C. Supreme Court.

It was around then that the siblings decided to sell.

"Financially, we can't afford half a million dollars," said Patricia.

"We already paid for the house once."

Patricia Mitchell says her plans to retire have been put on hold, as the siblings' legal costs continue to rise. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

When the siblings requested their $740,000 policy be paid in cash instead, Intact responded by allegedly trying to deduct more than $300,000 worth of expenses, along with another $20,950 for work performed by a contractor.

James Zaitsoff, the lawyer representing Bruce and Patricia Mitchell, says the costs supposedly stem from things like securing the property from break-ins, as well as some selective demolition and abatement.

James Zaitsoff says Intact had a duty to deal with the Mitchell siblings' claim in a timely manner. (CBC)

"The actual re-build did not start," said Zaitsoff, civil litigator for Owen Bird Law Corporation.

"They should have let my clients know from day one, or as close to day one as possible ... what was going to be covered."

Permitting delays to blame?

Intact, however, appears to lay blame on the City of Vancouver, citing "significant" permitting delays required to ensure the home was safe.

"The foundation issues that are in question were discovered after further due diligence from the city and unfortunately, after the restoration process began," the company said in a statement.

It also indicated that the mediation process was ongoing, though Zaitsoff says requests for the undisputed amount of roughly $440,000 have yet to be addressed.

The Mitchells' old house, at Woodland Drive and East 10th Avenue, has sat vacant for nearly five years since being gutted by fire. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Aaron Sutherland, Pacific vice-president of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, says the insurance industry does not track the timing of permit issuance, but acknowledges that delays are happening in municipalities across the Greater Vancouver Area.

Restoration costs thrown into question

Bruce and Patricia, meanwhile, have growing reason to suspect the cost of repairing the duplex to code was dramatically inflated.

Following their interview with CBC, the siblings introduced themselves to developer Rory O'Flynn, who purchased the Woodland Drive property through a realtor.

O'Flynn informed the pair that the new foundation had cost him roughly $60,000.

He also revealed that the entire restoration would cost him less than $740,000.

"That's what's so heartbreaking," said Patricia Mitchell.

With files from Belle Puri

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