Four years after fire destroyed the popular Workbench furniture store on Spring Garden Highway, a nasty claims dispute between the owner of the Barbadian company and its Trinidad-based insurer remains far from settled.
However, with the matter down for court hearing on November 17 next year, Beacon Insurance Limited today broke its silence on the protracted compensation dispute, while revealing a number of damaging findings arising out of its two-year investigation into the April 9, 2012 fire, which flattened the 24,000 square feet complex.
“I think now that we have come to a point in that claim where there is at this time no chance of there being a settlement we are now comfortable sharing our position on it because it is important that the country knows what is going on here,” Chief Operations Officer Christopher Woodhams told reporters during a press conference held at Beacon’s new SkyMall location.
He explained that in the aftermath of the 2012 fire, Workbench had entered a claim, which was “essentially for stock, machinery equipment, goods for sale and also very important, what we call a business interruption policy, which is essentially a policy that covers you for loss of profits incurred by what happened”.
However, Woodhams said the insurance company saw it necessary to carry out its own probe before paying the claim.
“The investigations included an independent adjustor to quantify the physical loss which would be the machinery and the stock. Because it was of a financial nature we had to get an independent accountant to evaluate the financial circumstances of Workbench. Also because it was a fire we had to rely on the report of the Barbados Fire Service. So essentially these three independent bodies were a large part of Beacon doing its due diligence on what happened,” he explained.
The probe determined that Workbench’s claim was not only “fraudulent” but also “exaggerated”.
Woodhams also revealed that the furniture company’s financial condition was “very poor”, adding that the Barbados Fire Services had deemed the fire to be “of suspicious origin”.
“ . . . accelerant was found at the point of the starting of the fire to support that report,” Woodhams said.
“Very importantly the building was locked when the fire services responded to the event,” he added.
However, not withstanding those findings, he said Beacon had “tried to settle the matter”, but said getting Workbench to provide documentation in support of its claim proved “extremely difficult”.
“For approximately two years we received nothing from them essentially to support their loss. Then eventually we received some documents and those documents showed very little, and specifically what we learned when they did disclose, they didn’t have audited accounts for seven years,” he said, pointing out that without the audited accounts it was “extremely difficult” to quantify the loss.
Nonetheless, Woodhams said Beacon had decided to enter into mediation with the lawyers of Workbench to allow their accountant to “build back the history” by working with an independent accountant to “try and quantify” the loss.
However, Woodhams said the accountants came to “an understanding” that only less than half of their original claim was valid.
He also said that as a condition of the agreement, the owners of Workbench were not to engage in any campaign against Beacon.
“We were in the midst of preparing our offer and the campaign started again against us. At that point we recognized that all avenues that we have tried and attempted to go down to settle this matter we are not going to be successful, so we are now in court,” said Woodhams, while not disclosing what the offer would have been.
He said he had “full confidence” in the Barbados court system, adding that Beacon was prepared to accept the verdict of the court.
“We have laid the bare bones of this matter in front of you guys now,” he said.
Efforts to reach Workbench’s former Managing Director James Linton for comment proved futile.