By Shree Ann Mathavan
YOU park your van in an open-air HDB car park.
A thunderstorm hits, and uproots the tree beside your vehicle.
The tree falls, and smashes into your beloved Nissan Urvan, which you depend on for your livelihood, because you are a bus driver.
Who pays? Who's responsible for the damage?
And who can you turn to for help?
That's the situation Mr Bani Nazeer Mohamad has found himself in.
Mr Bani, 49, had parked his second-hand vehicle in the HDB car park along Ubi Ave 1 last Saturday when the tree fell in the wee hours of the morning, following a heavy downpour.
The damage to the vehicle was extensive: Its body was crushed and its windows were shattered.
The bill: A hefty $16,500.
Mr Bani turned to his motor insurer, NTUC Income.
But it could not help him as he had only purchased third-party coverage, which doesn't provide cover for such damages, unlike comprehensive policies.
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So Mr Bani turned to the HDB, but was told that the Housing Board doesn't handle such cases.
Desperate, the bus driver then approached the Marine Parade Town Council. (See report below.)
Sighed Mr Bani: 'I feel so confused because everyone says it's not their business.
'It's not like I damaged the vehicle myself, it was stationary, so I'm hoping someone can help me.'
The driver, who works between 6am and 7.30pm,ferries several loads of children to and from two different schools on weekdays.
Sighed Mr Bani: 'Of course, I'm upset that this has happened, the bus is like my baby.'
To add to the pain, the three-week repairs also mean incurring yet more costs, as he has to rent another vehicle during the repair period.
This, he estimates, will easily cost him over $1,300.Mr Bani still has an outstanding $35,000 loan for the vehicle.
His brother had loaned him $44,000 to pay for the van and Mr Bani had been paying off the loan in monthly instalments of $500.
WHO CAN HELP?
Mr Bani, the main breadwinner of the family, lives in a 4-room HDB flat in Ubi with his wife, 47, a housewife, a son, a Sec 4 student, his two daughters, 21, a graphic designer and 23, an undergraduate.
He said: 'I don't even know who to turn to... Even if not 100 per cent, I'm hoping that I will get some help.'
NTUC Income told The New Paper that Mr Bani's third party coverage for his vehicle means the policy covered only liability to third parties arising from accidents, not damage to Mr Bani's own vehicle.
Said Mr Pui Phusangmook, senior vice president and general manager of the general insurance division: 'If Mr Bani had taken out our comprehensive policy which covers both liability to third parties and the damage to the insured vehicle, his claim would have been successful under the situation cited.'
If that was the case, the insurer would have arranged to repair his bus and pay for the repairs.
Other insurers we spoke to also said most comprehensive motor insurance policies would cover damage from the impact from a fallen tree.
Mr Ken Loh, 42, of M Plus Consultancy said: 'Motorists should ensure that they have comprehensive policy coverage.
'Prevention is always better than cure, because otherwise you're on your own.'
Mr Loh noted, however, that such acts of God claims typically form only a small percentage of total claims here, a figure he estimates to be about 'less than 5 per cent.'
He said: 'In my 12 years in the business, I've only seen at most five cases, not more than that.'
STILL BEING INVESTIGATED
THE Marine Parade Town Council told The New Paper that the maintenance of trees are conducted by a horticulture contractor.
The town council's spokesman said: 'With regards to that unfortunate incident, we have referred the matter to our horticulture contractor and its insurance company for investigation and assessment.
'Our town council officers and the horticulture contractor have since contacted Mr Bani and informed him of the processes.'
This article was first published in The New Paper.