Canadian Underwriter

Falling trees, burst pipes lead to ice storm-related claims in Ontario

January 2, 2014   by Greg Meckbach, Associate Editor

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As power workers continue to restore electricity in Eastern Canada after a pre-Christmas bout of freezing rain, some insurance carriers report having received a variety of claims arising from the ice storm, from burst water pipes to tree branches falling on vehicles.

 “The majority of the claims being filed are due to falling trees and branches which have damaged homes and autos,” a spokesperson for the Royal Bank of Canada’s RBC Insurance Services Inc. wrote to Canadian Underwriter. “We also have some claims due to water pipes bursting and a few claims related to fire damage from candles used in the home.”

The Canadian Press reported that as of Dec. 31, about 2,500 customers of electrical utilities — including 1,300 in Ontario and 250 in Quebec— remained without power.

As of Jan. 1, 75 customers in New Brunswick had yet to be reconnected while on Jan. 2, Toronto Hydro was still reporting “a number” of customers without power.

An Insurance Bureau of Canada spokesperson wrote in an e-mail to Canadian Underwriter that the association does not expect to have any figures, on claims arising from the ice storm, until the middle of January.

A spokesperson for Aviva Canada noted, in an e-mail to Canadian Underwriter, that losses as of Dec. 30 were “not significant in severity but there is a steady stream of claims coming in.”

Although Aviva has received a “small number of commercial losses with business income claims,” the carrier is seeing mostly “home owner claims involving frozen pipes, fridge and freezer losses, damage to cars, sheds and homes because of falling trees and limbs.”

For its part, RBC Insurance reported that, in addition to claims arising from falling branches, it also had “claims for living expenses, food and unusable food storage appliances (fridge and freezers) due to prolonged loss of power.”

“In our travel business, we have claims related to delayed flights, missed connections and cancelled vacation plans,” an RBC Insurance spokesperson wrote.

“Currently we are assisting our customers with over 1,300 homeowners and auto claims,” a spokesperson for State Farm Canada wrote. “Most of them are related to damaged property and vehicles caused by falling ice and tree limbs and sewer back-up.”

Environment Canada records indicate that freezing rain fell most of the day Dec. 21 at Toronto Pearson International Airport, with a total of 16.6 mm of rain that day. On Dec. 22, another 13.6 mm of rain fell at the same location. That day, Environment Canada recorded freezing rain most of the time from midnight through 4:00 p.m.

More than five times that amount fell in some places between Jan. 4 and 10, 1998, when the total water equivalent of precipitation exceeded 73 mm in Kingston, Ont., 85 mm in Ottawa and 100 mm areas south of Montreal. Those totals included ice pellets and snow but was mainly in the form of freezing rain, according to Statistics Canada.

The ice storm 16 years ago is the second most expensive disaster in Canadian history, when measured by insured losses of about $1.5 billion, when adjusted for inflation. Until the flooding last June in southern Alberta (which IBC reported had insured losses of $1.7 billion), the 1998 ice storm had been the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history. It left close to 1.4 million customers in Quebec and more than 230,000 customers in Ontario without electricity, after bringing down 1,000 power transmission towers and 30,000 wooden utility poles according to Statistics Canada.

On Dec. 23, 2013, a Canadian Underwriter reporter did not notice any utility poles or power transmission towers down in Toronto, but did notice several cables down due to fallen branches, as well a several streets blocked by large fallen tree branches and cables.

On Dec. 22, Toronto Hydro-Electric System Ltd. reported about 264,000 customers were without power, “which is down from the 300,000 impacted during the height of the storm.” Toronto Hydro had 726,000 customers as of Sept. 30, according to the utility’s most recent financial report.

Hydro One, an Ontario government-owned company that distributes electricity to municipalities as well as to 1.3 million individual customers, reported Dec. 22 it had more than 120,000 customers without power. The freezing rain had caused “widespread power outages” to its distribution system. In a Dec. 22 press release, Hydro One reported that in the Hamilton suburb of Dundas alone, 22,108 of its customers were without power. As of Dec. 27, 98% of Hydro One’s customers had their power restored.

Photo [above]: Toronto Hydro forester, Brian Flint, clears a large tree branch before restoration efforts can begin on Dec. 23, 2013. (Toronto Hydro Twitter)

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