Anyone who has driven through Sylvania in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire over the past few months would likely have seen a hand-painted banner on the side of the road in huge, bright red letters that read: “COLES HOME INSURANCE I’M STILL WAITING…”
Hanging from a metal fence in front of a fire-damaged property on busy Princes Highway, the conspicuous sign was even adorned with plastic skeletons for Halloween – one holding a phone, just to get the point across.
“You wouldn’t believe that you would be treated as if you didn’t pay a policy for so long,” said Damian Palisi. “I’ve been here for over 25 years, my children grew up here.”
For nearly six months, the 58-year-old has been forced to live in a “roach-infested” motel just up the road while being left in limbo by Coles Insurance, which he says has refused to pay his pay off home insurance.
“I called the insurance company today – I’ve had enough,” he told news.com.au on Monday. “I woke up today with a frigging cockroach on my face.”
Mr Palisi says the sign – which drew attention online this week – was painted by his daughter as a public protest.
“I’ll add it very soon,” he said. “It’s going to be ‘Slow, Slack, Dangerous.’ It’s wrong what they’ve done – all I want is my home. I have been treated with so much disrespect.”
In August last year, Mr Palisi was asleep in the lounge when he was awakened by “pops and crackles” outside. His spa had caught fire during the night, and the pergola and back of the house were soon engulfed in flames.
The former boat repairman suffered burns and smoke inhalation trying to put out the fire, rendering the home uninhabitable and dangerously exposing asbestos.
According to Mr Palisi, Coles Insurance has “done a hell of a lot” to secure the asbestos or start repair work because the company – after inspecting the site and seeing dozens of boat engines scattered around the yard – accused it of being To conduct business of the property, thereby voiding his policy.
“[It’s] because I have too much shit here,” he said.
However, Mr Palisi insists he was forced to close his boat repair business in 2017 after injuring himself in a hit-and-run accident at Taren Point when he was thrown off his scooter.
“So I sold a lot of crap and kept what I wanted to keep,” he said.
“I’m a bit of a hoarder, as you can see. All of these are mine. I admit it looks like a shipyard but those are my stuff. They think I ran a business from here, but that’s not true – all these engines have been here for five years, nothing has really moved. You look at Google Earth and the same shit is here. If I were doing business it would be other boats and this and that.”
He now makes a living from boat transport – but insists none of his business is conducted from the property.
Mr. Palisi, who estimates the total repair bill at around $300,000 to $400,000, has been awaiting a final decision from Coles Insurance for more than five and a half months.
He says he fully cooperated with the insurer’s investigation to prove he wasn’t running a business and has paid more than $15,000 in legal fees so far, but still hasn’t received a response.
“I was open and honest, I let her see everything,” he said.
“They wanted my code to go into Facebook so they could see all my messages, they wanted phone records, SMS records, income records, my BAS, they wanted P&L, everything related to my business. My business is on the move – I get boats off the water and take them where they need to go, it has nothing to do with here.”
Even after receiving the fire investigation report earlier this month “they still won’t give us an answer yes or no as to whether they will pay”.
In the month after the fire, Mr Palisi said the insurer would “essentially do nothing” and that the stress had sent him back to hospital. “I stressed her out on the phone and ended up with really bad chest pains,” he said.
“I went to the hospital and ended up having five bypasses.”
In the months since then nothing has been done to repair the damage or properly secure the asbestos. “I called them about it, they didn’t want to talk to me,” he said.
“Eventually I ran into the people who did the make-safe, who turned off the electricity. They spray them with glue and paint that lasts seven to ten days [to keep the asbestos down], but it’s been going everywhere for ages. They left it unprotected since the day of the fire. It puts other people in danger. Asbestos has been washed past the footpath here on rainy days. It’s just so bad.”
Mr Palisi claimed Coles Insurance, which is underwritten by IAG – the country’s largest general insurer – “said they wouldn’t spend a dime on anything until it’s approved”.
“I wanted to pay and have everything removed [but] Coles said you can’t touch anything,” he said.
“The only reason this was covered was because I called Midcity Group, they came out, they called Coles and said you’re breaking that rule, you’re breaking that rule.”
He berated the insurer as “dangerous for people”.
“This asbestos problem and what they’ve done — it’s against asbestos legislation, it’s against insurance law,” he said. “They do what they want.”
Coles Insurance directed inquiries to IAG.
In a statement on Thursday, a spokesman for IAG said their “focus is on helping our clients get back on their feet as quickly as possible and we are committed to providing our clients with prompt support and the most efficient claims processing.” .
“When evaluating claims, we may need to take a closer look at the circumstances of a claim before making a final decision,” he said.
Arrangements were immediately made for a security repair at the client’s home after the fire to ensure it was safe and secure and that there was no loose asbestos on the property. We also hired a hygienist to inspect the property and provided temporary housing for our client.”
He added: “The team have been in regular contact with our client to finalize all the required information, some of which has recently been received. We are in the process of verifying this information and will provide further information to the customer as soon as possible.”
Originally posted as “Treated like s**t”: A weary homeowner aims a giant sign at Coles Insurance on a busy street