Canadian Insurance

One way to fund flood claims by high-risk property owners

October 29, 2018

The money needed to pay homeowners the cost of basement flooding could be raised by suing large oil firms, a politician suggested Thursday.

“A lot of people are not going to be able to qualify for private insurance against flooding in the future,” said Peter Tabuns, an Ontario member of provincial parliament said in the legislature. he said this is because some insurers are not offering flood coverage to homes that are at high risk of flooding.

Several Canadian insurers offer coverage to homeowners for sewer backup and overland flood. But Canada has hundreds of thousands of homeowners whose properties are at such a high risk of flood that the owners cannot buy overland flood at a reasonable price, Craig Stewart, vice president of federal affairs at the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said in an interview earlier this year. He was not commenting on any Ontario legislation at the time.

A member of the opposition New Democratic Party, Tabuns tabled his private member’s bill on Oct. 1. Bill 37 would allow governments, companies and individuals to sue fossil fuel firms in Ontario for the costs of losses caused by climate change. Government MPPs spoke largely against the bill Thursday during second reading.

If Bill 37 were to become law, fossil fuel producers would simply pull out of Ontario, said Dave Smith, Progressive Conservative MPP for Peterborough—Kawartha. “Once the industry is removed from the province, who then would we sue in this province?” he asked.

Tabuns, MPP for Toronto-Danforth, referred Thursday to a July 8, 2013 rain storm over the western Toronto area that caused about $1 billion in industry-wide insured losses, mainly from sewer backup. “That is only a small taste of what’s heading towards us if we don’t see the action that’s necessary,” he said.

Worldwide, the average temperature has risen about a degree Celsius over the past 100 years, says Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation. “The manifestation of climate change and extreme weather events is still yet to come,” he said during a panel discussion held in Toronto.

Bill 37 is similar in concept to legislation that allows tobacco companies to be sued for the costs of treating smokers’ illnesses. The average cost of a water damage claim related to a flooded basement in Canada is about $43,000.

“When thousands of people’s basements fill up with sewage for the third time in a row after a major storm has overwhelmed the sewer system, who is going to pay?” asked Tabuns. “When people who are already struggling to pay their bills are hauling out waterlogged couches and other furniture to put on the front lawn, who is going to pay to help replace that furniture?”

If Bill 37 were to be passed into law, plaintiffs would be able to sue oil, gas and coal companies in Ontario for several types of damages, including economic loss or physical loss of property, infrastructure, structures, resources, or other assets and the cost of buying insurance for such losses. “If Toronto or Windsor or Hamilton has to rebuild its storm sewer systems to deal with much bigger rainstorms, then the legislation allows governments to sue for those costs in order to prevent future risk to life and property,” Tabuns said.

A defendant could be sued if its emissions are “globally detectable,” meaning a corner gas station could not be sued, said Tabuns.

But the bill in its current form raises several legal questions, said Donna Skelly, PC MPP for the Hamilton riding of Flamborough-Glanbrook. “Who could be the subject of a claim? What is considered a globally detected level of greenhouse gas emissions? How could liability be split between multiple defendants?”

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