Chris Davis, Pincher Creek Voice
|Annie Lok and David Bairnes stand|
in the remains of their kitchen
C. Davis photo
According to Lok and Bairnes, a contractor working on behalf of their insurer, the Co-operators, removed the smoke-damaged 'soft' contents of their home, including furniture and personal belongings, and also removed samples of the interior finishing materials to analyze.
"The adjuster said that 'anything that pertains to this claim is to be yours for the asking'," said Lok. "It's a peace of mind contract. We purchased insurance because we were assured that we will be protected if anything happened."
|David Bairnes and Annie Lok protesting in Pincher Creek|
C. Davis photo
"Anything over 1.5% means that asbestos abatement procedures has to be held under Occupational Health and Safety (regulations)," explained Lok.
Bairnes explained that two contractors gave an estimate for the asbestos abatement aspects of the reparation. "One company did not have any certified staff to do that, so he (the contractor) scrambled to find somebody that he could sub that to. Unfortunately, time ran away on us," Bairnes continued. "We met with him (the adjuster) the 7 of November He brought nothing. We talked about the possibilities, of all our options at that time. Whether we should consider destroying and knocking the entire place down. We were under the impression that the entire interior was going to be gutted. That's what we were told."
"As soon as practically possible fire and soot stained materials, contaminated materials need to be removed. That's what both of those guys told me, standing in this house. They've been backing out on that matter ever since. They've left it like this."
"On November 14, they started the asbestos abatement. They were done by the 18th. They did the three stage access-egress, they sealed the doors, they created the negative airspace in here, everything was sealed. They took out 2% (asbestos) in the walls."
"When they allowed us back in, we found there's asbestos in the floor tile that still exists. 20% in that case. 40% in the floor tile in the bathroom, and on the lower level. Believe it or not, 88% fabric in all the ducts, that was within the containment area."
"Our house is worth zero, because we can't sell our house without removing the asbestos," said Bairnes.
"We've been asking them to come to the table to meet with us to ask them to explain what they did, why they did, and when they did it," Bairnes continued. "All through Christmas and New Years, we sent letters and emails asking to meet with us and explain things. They ignored us. They told us submit a proof of loss, which is supposedly a statutory requirement. We have a waiver, however that says we didn't have to do that. We got a letter from their lawyer that says to submit a proof of loss."
"We don't know how much it's going to rebuild this house, because their preferred vendor's estimate doesn't make any sense, to anybody. "If you see a film on that wall, and wonder what it is..." interjected Lok, pointing to the wall of one of the upstairs bedrooms, "It's a sealant for airborne particulates, when they're doing asbestos removal," Bairnes continued. It's the wrong thing for the job, because now it has to be removed. In order to remove it, you will disturb the asbestos that's encased in it. We talked to the manufacturer of this material, and he said that 'Whoever is using our product doesn't understand our product'."
"So that is another one of our questions," said Bairnes. "Do you guys really know what you're doing? Why should we allow you back into our house to do anything, at this point? I have a heart condition. I want to know that when we move back into our house we won't be subject to anything."
"They ignored our questions then, they did what they wanted to do, they finished November 23, that's when anybody was last here, and have ignored us ever since. Through Christmas and New Years, we asked to meet with them, and we got no answers, so we wrote that demand letter, we wrote to the CEO."
"We got a letter from their lawyer that said if we didn't provide proof of loss by a certain time and date, it may affect them paying our additional living expenses. So we submitted some invoices, before the deadline happened. We got an email back from the adjuster that our file was at the lawyers, and they couldn't pay us. This was several days before the deadline."
"We can't live in the house, and we own the house. We can't fix the house, because it's technically evidence. We are stuck in between and we don't know what to do or how to move forward. The insurer has chosen to stop talking to us, because they can. The last time they really talked to us was November 23. They've destroyed our lives. As capable and able as insurance companies are of rebuilding lives, they are equally capable of destroying them," Bairnes concluded.
Bairnes and Lok are currently renting a house several doors down from the one they own. They're taking their complaint public. On Friday, July 13 they picketed the local Credit Union (citing the Credit Union's affiliation with the Co-operators) and the Co-operators office in Pincher Creek before moving on to do the same in Lethbridge, where their adjuster is located. Monday morning (today) they planned to go to Medicine Hat before moving on to Calgary. They say they will take their protest all the way to the Co-operator's head office in Guelph, Ontario.
In an interview conducted after this article was originally published, Co-operators Senior Media Advisor Leonard Sharman said "It's a real surprise to us that they have started this campaign. We thought we were close to settling this claim. We're ready and willing to work out any differences we have so we can get back to the business of getting their home finished."
He refuted the couple's claim that the couple has been ignored since November 23. "We've been in contact with them quite regularly since that time." He said the company had "requested information several times" regarding the couple's independent assessment of the asbestos levels in the house. "They have yet to provide us with those studies," he said.
Sharman said the company would be willing to consider independent mediation to resolve the issues.
"We'd really like to see this resolved as quickly as possible."
The couple has also started a blog at www.canadianvictimsofinsurance.com detailing their complaints with updates from their journey of protest.