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Legal Heads Up For Flood Victims

As Townsville locals assess the damage from the recent severe flooding, the lawyers at Maurice Blackburn are highlighting some of the common legal issues that can arise following natural disasters.

Rene Flores, Senior Associate at Maurice Blackburn Townsville said there are a number of things people should be aware of when making an insurance claim.

“Lodge a claim as soon as possible and understand what coverage you have under the policy, read the fine print,” Mr Flores said.

“Ideally, before starting emergency repairs and clean-up work, people should first check with their insurers that the work is authorised and therefore covered.

“So the insurer can properly assess your claim, don’t forget to take photographs of the damage before cleaning up,” he said.

Mr Flores said anyone who has an urgent financial need, should let their insurer know as soon as possible so their insurance claim can be fast-tracked.

“If you show you have an urgent financial need, insurers are required to make an advance payment within five business days to ease the financial burden.

“Whilst most claims should be processed quickly and fairly, if this doesn't happen, you have the right to appeal,” he said.

Mr Flores said some things you can do if your claim is rejected or delayed are:

appeal to your insurance company to reconsider its decision (each company will have its own appeals process, so check their website or call the company);
make a complaint to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (1800 931 678); or
seek legal advice.

Mr Flores said following a natural disaster people and businesses often take a while to get to back on track, and this can impact employers and employees.

“Many people will be volunteering in the clean-up, helping family members or simply unable to get to work because of the flooding.

“Whilst there is no general entitlement to ‘natural disaster leave’, where an employee requests annual leave this must not unreasonably be refused,” he said.

Mr Flores said some businesses may have been forced to close temporarily or even to retrench employees.

“Where an employer has been forced to close and stand people down, the Fair Work Act allows the employer to require employees to take annual leave if this is reasonable,” Mr Flores said.

“In cases where it is genuine and the business cannot continue to operate, employees can be retrenched. However, not all dismissals that arise from the crisis will be genuine redundancies.

“If you believe that your employment has been terminated without a valid reason, you may be able to seek a remedy for unfair dismissal,” he said.

Mr Flores said that if your employer’s business closes because of the recent floods and you lose your job, you are entitled to redundancy, notice of termination and any accrued entitlements owing, such as annual leave.

“If you think you have been treated unfairly, contact the Fair Work Commission or seek legal advice,” he said.