Fort McMurray evacuees denied rental cars by insurers

Some Fort McMurray evacuees say their insurers won't cover rental cars unless they can prove the vehicles they abandoned in Tuesday's evacuation were damaged.

Some insurance adjusters want proof vehicles abandoned by evacuees are damaged

Florence Maeko says her insurance company won't cover the costs of a rental vehicle.

When the third Fort McMurray gas station she tried was out of fuel, Florence Maeko contemplated the unthinkable.

"The only thing I was thinking was of my kids," she said, panic rising in her voice as she recalled last week's mass exodus from her burning city. "I said if some good person can just take my kids, rescue them, I will survive as an adult."

Instead, she managed to phone a friend who had gas and space in her car. 

Maeko and her sons ditched their SUV on the side of a road already littered with cars and trucks.

Nearly a week later, they're staying with friends in Edmonton. But Maeko said her insurance company, The Cooperators, won't cover the cost of a rental vehicle unless she provides evidence the car she left behind is damaged.

'I need a car, I have two kids'

"I don't know the status of my car now," said Maeko, pointing out she doesn't even know if she still has a home. "I don't have the money to pay for a rental."

On Monday, she walked to the closest Edmonton school to register her sons, Jesse and Joram, aged 11 and 8. When she found out they needed to go elsewhere and it wasn't within walking distance, her heart sank. 

"I need a car, I have two kids. I need a car to function," said Maeko. "We are paying monthly. Why are we paying them this money?"

A day later, some good news for Maeko.

"In light of the tragic circumstances in Fort McMurray, we will provide coverage for Ms. Maeko's rental car," Leonard Sharman, senior communications consultant with The Co-operators, said in an e-mail Tuesday. "We wish her and her family all the best as they deal with this difficult situation".

Randell Brown said The Personal Insurance Company initially told him a rental vehicle was covered.

But the day after he rented it, he said the company called back to tell him without proof of damage to his abandoned vehicles, he'd have to foot the bill.

"There's no one I can call and ask," said Brown. "The fire department is busy risking their life to keep this fire under control, and there's nothing I can do."
Randell Brown says he needs a vehicle so he can find a job to care for his wife, Shannel, and their unborn child.

Last week, Brown and his wife abandoned their SUV and sedan at a bus depot after desperately trying to fill up at three different stations. He knew they didn't have enough fuel to make it to the next gas station, an hour and a half away.

"I did that to save my life and my wife and my unborn child," said Brown, whose wife is four months pregnant. "I need to find a job. I need to provide for my child."

Brown said the insurance company has since agreed to pay rental fees for the first six days.

'Have a heart'

But Brown hopes his insurance company will "have a heart" and reconsider.

"People all over Canada are helping and giving," he said.

CBC News has requested comment from both insurance companies but has not heard back.

"These are not normal circumstances as we know," said Bill Adams, a vice-president with the Insurance Bureau of Canada. "So I anticipate that insurers are recognizing that it's not always possible to demonstrate (the damage) given the nature of the event."

"If other insurers are providing rental vehicles to people in similar circumstances, they are doing so at their own decision and it is above and beyond what they are obligated to do according to the wording of the policy that's in force."

When asked by CBC News, finance minister Joe Ceci did not address whether insurance companies should make an exception in these cases.

"Government expects insurance providers to honour their contractual obligations," Ceci said in a statement provided to CBC News.

Adams has advised anyone who needs help navigating claims to call the bureau at 1-844-2-ASK-IBC.

But Maeko said she has called several times Monday and no one picked up.

She can't wait for answers. She's already rented a vehicle on her credit card.

@andreahuncar   andrea.huncar@cbc.ca


Andrea Huncar


Andrea Huncar reports on human rights and justice. Contact her in confidence at andrea.huncar@cbc.ca

with files from Cassandra Leader


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