Excerpted article was written By David Thurton , CBC News

A Fort McMurray lawyer is calling on insurance companies to extend their deadlines to settle wildfire insurance claims.

May 2 will mark two years since the wildfire reached Fort McMurray. Causing $3.56 billion in damage, the Insurance Bureau of Canada considers it the costliest insured disaster in Canadian history.

Many insurance policies have a two-year window within which claims must be settled, otherwise policyholders cannot take insurers to court.

“This is a unique situation. This is not just a one-off or 10 houses being built,” said lawyer Terrence Cooper, whose practice has been inundated with requests for help with insurance claims.

He said he’s seen clients whose insurers have been proactive in offering extensions and he’s calling on all companies to do the same.

“We’re actually seeing a little bit of a panic out there right now,” Cooper said.

About 50,000 insurance claims were filed in the wake of the wildfire, according to the insurance bureau. Most have already been settled.

‘Protect your rights’

Cooper said policyholders who have not finished their proof-of-loss statements need to understand that the document should have been submitted months before the two-year mark to allow time for legal challenges.

Not to mention, Cooper said, it takes a significant period of time to list and appraise the value of buildings and possessions lost.

The insurance bureau said it will issue guidelines on its website in the next couple weeks for Fort McMurray residents who have outstanding insurance claims.

In the meantime, bureau spokesperson Rob de Pruis said policyholders should contact their insurance companies.

“It is important that people understand that they do need to reach out to their insurance representative to see how this two-year time period will be affecting them,” de Pruis said. “Everyone’s circumstance is going to be a little bit different.”

Cooper urges residents who do get an extension to get it in writing. They should also sign a standstill or tolling agreement that legally protects an extension that’s granted.

“We are saying to people, ‘Just be careful. Protect your rights,’ ” he said.

For unsettled claims without an extension, Cooper said, policyholders need to take their insurers to court before the second anniversary and file a statement of claim.

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