Family Gets $200,000 Bill For House Fire

Our sympathies go out to a young family who lost all their belongings in a  house fire and who were then slapped with a $200,000 insurance bill for the damage.

The couple, Toni Mita  and Ngatoa Ngauru are in their early 20s and have two small children. Caught in a poverty trap and unable to afford to buy their own home they have no option other than to rent a place to live in, leaving them no money for contents insurance.

The family, whose children were in bed at the time of the fire, were lucky to escape unharmed from the wooden structured house. They spoke to the Waikato Times about the ‘bill’ they received from the insurance company:

“…Ms Mita said the company had told her they were responsible for paying the $200,000 replacement cost of the house.

“I asked them the reason why and they said `because you had your two children in the house they’re held responsible for the fire‘.”

The fire, which was ruled accidental by fire investigators, began after a clothes airer collapsed on to a pot belly fire.

Ms Mita said her children were in bed at the time and could not have been responsible for what she considered an accident.

“Things like this happen, accidents happen and we feel blamed now. We feel responsible like they’re making us feel like we went and poured petrol on their house and set it on fire or something.” more here

Wait a minute, two young kids in a wooden house with a wood burning stove that had a surface hot enough to set fire to clothing – where was the fire screen?

If a swimming pool has to be fenced off to prevent kids from drowning why shouldn’t a wood burning stove be fitted with a screen?

Every year approximately six children die in New Zealand from burn injuries and every day at least one is admitted to hospital.

Safekids NZ have a data analysis report that found that electric/ fire/ hot substances injuries exhibit a socioeconomic gradient (i.e. NZ Deprivation 9-10 was significantly higher than NZ Deprivation 1-2):

Children of lower socioeconomic status were more likely to be killed and injured by burns. Statistical testing also showed that this injury cause was significantly higher for Mäori and Pacific children than for European. The report also showed that burn related injuries are significantly higher for males and for children living in urban areas.

The ACC information shows there is an average of 8,660 total active claims each year for burn injuries to children, costing more than $3.9 million a year.

Given the high numbers of children living in poverty in rental accommodation isn’t it about time that landlords were made to take more responsibility for the safety of the heating appliances in their properties?

Insurance companies have a big part to play in this and could start by refusing cover to landlords unless firescreens are fitted, and maintained properly.

See also:

230,000 children living in poverty in New Zealand – 22% of children are living in unacceptable poverty

NZ’s high winter death rate and burning wood to keep warm