Jo Walker and Kelvin Steinhardt in front of what used to be their back shed. A tree from a neighbouring property fell over during a recent storm and destroyed it.
Jo Walker and Kelvin Steinhardt in front of what used to be their back shed. A tree from a neighbouring property fell over during a recent storm and destroyed it. Rob Williams

Tree felled in storm a $4000 'act of god'

INSURANCE companies won't accept a claim for an older couple whose property was badly damaged in the December storm with one saying it was 'an act of god'.

A huge gum tree at the back of Kelvin Steinhardt and Jo Walker's property fell during the storm crushing a shed and destroying valuable items inside.

A second palm tree from the neighbouring property also came down during the storm and damaged the couple's roof.

The damage bill to replace the roof and the shed is about $4000 but the pair say it's the loss of the items inside, including rare china, silverware and vintage mirrors used in Jo's design and prop hire business, that are the real heartbreak.

Now they've been told by the council, their insurance company and the neighbour's insurance company they're not covered.

The large gum tree was on Ipswich City Council's land.

In a letter to Ms Walker dated January 9 the council said because the tree fell due to "external factors", it wasn't liable and therefore couldn't help.

"Given extreme weather conditions, any tree can be blown over and cause damage," the letter reads.

"A healthy tree can fall due to a combination of very strong winds, excessively wet soil, or a heavy tree canopy.

"In such circumstances, the repair cost is borne by the property owner who has suffered the damage (or their insurers)."

When Mr Steinhardt called the neighbour's insurance company to see if they would cover the claim, he said they told him it was "an act of god" and because he didn't have fully comprehensive insurance, given the property is considered a flood risk, there would be no pay out.

According to a fact sheet from the Insurance Council Australia, the term 'Act of God' is not a term used in Australian property insurance policies, but certain claims can be excluded.

"Insurers do exclude some specific types of damage from policies," the fact sheet states.

"But, where exclusions exist it will be written in your product disclosure statement in specific terms."

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Ironically, Mr Steinhardt, who is blind, thanked god it hadn't been worse.

"I had taken shelter under an awning in the backyard and was going to head to the shed because it was closest," he said.

"Thank god I didn't though, because it was completely flattened by the tree. I didn't even hear the thud as the tree came down."

When the giant tree was cut up, the woodchips weighed 22 tonnes and shovel loads of glass and rare broken items were thrown out.

For Mr Steinhardt finishing all the mulching was even more difficult, given he is blind.

He's disappointed no one is willing to help with the damage bill, but said how wonderful the SES and other residents had been in helping with the clean-up.

"I guess we will have to pay for it ourselves," Mr Steinhardt said.



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