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Helping To Avoid Insurance Claims Being Repudiated

Jun 28, 2008
Some time ago it was feasible to for an insurance company to pay a motor claim that would have otherwise been declined, simply because the claimant had been a long term and loyal client to the company. Even today it is not inconceivable that an insurance company will make a decision to pay a claim on commercial grounds, for example where the claimant is a very major and highly profitable client. However the days of paying out a claim in order to treat a long-term client decently, are long gone and many clients risk having claims declined.

Although it is not widely known, most contract hire companies have a form of fall back insurance for their contract hire vehicles; this can covers them if the hirer has an accident and their insurer refuses to pay out. Of course the contract hire company will then hold the hirer liable for any loss, but on occasions the hirer is a limited company that subsequently goes into liquidation. If there are no personal guarantees in place then the contract hire company has no means of recovering its money other than to claim on their own insurance. Nowadays contract hire companies are seeing an increasing number of cases where claims are being repudiated. The more serious the accident, the more closely the insurance company will investigate a claim. After all they have to look after their shareholders interests, paying claims where the insurer or driver have not complied with the terms and conditions of the insurance, is not looking after the shareholders interests.

A motor insurance company's terms and conditions will normally state that a vehicle should comply with the manufacturer's specifications; if the vehicle is modified by the driver it is essential to inform the insurance company, otherwise it can invalidate the insurance. For this reason it is always advisable to fit the manufacturer's recommended tyres. It is important to advise employees that they must not make any changes to their company vehicle. It has been known for employees to do what is called "chip" the engine of their company vehicle. This increases the power of the engine and could, if they had not been notified, give an insurer a very valid reason for refusing pay out on a claim. It is worth bearing in mind that this can also invalidate the manufacturer's warranty and potentially cause a problem with the contract hire company; a vehicle without a manufacturers warranty does not have the same value as one that does.

The vehicle must also be roadworthy to comply with the insurance company's terms and conditions. Contract hire vehicles, as most company car are nowadays, are generally relatively new and regularly serviced. If however a company runs its own vehicles and keeps them for perhaps four or five years, then the condition of the cars needs to be monitored more closely, particularly if they are doing high mileage.

Of course it is not only the lack of maintenance that can cause a vehicle un roadworthy; depending on the circumstances of an accident, having the wrong tyre pressure, where the tyres are unevenly, over or under inflated could cause the insurance company to deem the vehicle to be in an un roadworthy condition. Incorrect tyre pressure can affect road holding, steering, braking and the overall handling of a vehicle and in an accident can often be a contributory factor, particularly in wet conditions. If a vehicle is involved in an accident, it is not unusual for the insurance company to check that the car is roadworthy; it is in their interests to do so. Of course if the circumstances of the accident were such that it is clear that the accident has been caused by another vehicle, this would not be a factor.

If it is the case that the employee's actions have clearly caused an accident, perhaps where they have lost control on a corner or failed to brake in time, then it is quite possible that the insurance company may want to inspect the vehicle, to satisfy itself that the car is in a roadworthy condition. It is not uncommon to find that company car drivers have incorrectly inflated tyres, or just neglected to check them. It is important that employees are made aware of this danger, recommending them to check their tyre pressure, when the tyres are cold, at least every two weeks. This will also help reduce the company's overall fuel consumption.

It is also important that tyre wear is regularly monitored to ensure that tyres do not go below the legal limit; with servicing intervals at 18,000 miles and more, one cannot rely on being advised during servicing, that it is necessary to consider changing tyres. Having tyres that are below the legal limit is not maintaining a car in a roadworthy condition. Sometimes only part of the tyre is worn; running the car with the incorrect tyre pressure can cause this.

Many company bosses seem unaware or unconcerned, of the risks posed by of a company car being uninsured due to employees driving whilst in excess of the legal alcohol limit, Insurance companies are able to refuse to pay out on a claim, if the driver is under the influence of alcohol. In spite of all the evidence as to how alcohol affects psychomotor skills, there are a hard core of offenders who believe that this does not apply to them and that their years of drinking and driving has allowed them to master driving whilst drunk. There is some evidence to suggest that this not so much the younger driver but often men in their 50's. 19% of car accidents that result in a death are believed to involve alcohol. Sadly the death is often not the drunk driver but an innocent pedestrian, another motorist or sometimes children. Employers that make it very clear to their employees that they can be instantly dismissed if they drink and drive are not only helping to avoid the company car being involved in an accident without insurance cover but possibly also saving a life.

The position is essentially the same if the employee is driving the company vehicle, whilst under the effects of drugs. Even if an employee is taking a prescription drug rather than recreational drugs, this could affect their ability to drive in a safe manner. Following new legislation, effective from April 2008, it is the company's responsibility to ensure that their employees are safe and this includes, whilst driving on company business

Another risk is when the insurance company believe that a loss has been caused by negligence on the part of the driver. An example of this would be where an employee has left his car, either on the drive or in the road, with the engine running; many do this in the winter so that when they get into the car, it is already heated up. If an employee does this, or leaves the keys in the car when at the petrol station and an opportunistic thief jumps in and drives off, the insurance company is unlikely to pay out.

It is important to ensure that all your drivers have a current driving license and that previous convictions like drink driving, if required by the insurer, have been declared. Some employers have never seen more that a photocopy of their employees' driving licence, others take a photocopy of the original and hold it on file. This is very unsatisfactory from the company's point of view. There have been cases of it emerging after an accident that the employee was driving whilst disqualified.

If a company uses a contract hire broker to source their vehicles they could arrange for the broker to regularly check the employee's driving licences; a licence checking service is offered by the more established contract hire and leasing brokers. This is the only way that a company can be sure an employee not been convicted of offences that they are unaware of and cause their insurance to be invalidated. This will also help them to avoid being prosecuted under new legislation introduced in April 2008.

If an insurer rejects a claim, it does not necessarily follow that they have acted correctly. There have been many such decisions by insurance companies, which have subsequently been overturned by the Financial Ombudsman, the body that deals with disputes or complaints against insurance companies. In a case that involved one of our clients, the insurance company refused to settle a claim in excess of 60,000 following a car jacking. They justified this because the vehicle did not have tracker fitted, in spite of the fact that they had told the client on many occasions that it was a requirement. The client, who disagreed with the insurer's decision, called in an expert. The expert said that whilst the insurer had told the client he must have Tracker fitted, they had not written to the client and told him they were no longer providing cover. The expert's views were made known to the company and the claim was settled in full, soon after.

To summarise, it is important to ensure that vehicles are properly maintained and that tyres are regularly checked for wear and the pressures should be checked ideally every two weeks. Employees should be prohibited from making any modification to their company vehicle and should heed any warning lights that come up on the screen of their vehicle. They should also be warned about driving whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs and encouraged to speak to the company if they are on any type of medication that may affect their ability to drive safely. Vehicles should not be started and left to warm up on a cold day and keys should not be left in the car whilst in a petrol station or whilst quickly popping into the shops. Opportunistic thieves only take seconds to steal a car. Speak to a contract hire broker, about licence checking, it is vital that all companies have these checks carried out. The aforementioned will at least go some way, to avoiding a situation where an insurer refuses to pay out on a claim.

Negligence is a major factor when motor insurance companies refusing to pay claims. There was a reported case in the United States, apparently perfectly true, where the purchaser of a new motor home set out on a journey and after setting the vehicle to cruise control, went to the back of the vehicle to fix himself a drink. Understanding that cruise control meant the vehicle would drive itself. Not surprisingly it crashed. Of course being America he was able to sue the manufacturer for not telling him that, cruise control doesn't work like that.
About the Author
For more information about contract hire, lease purchase, finance lease or vehicle hire purchase in the UK please contact Bowater Price plc http://www.bowaterprice.com Tel - 01494 536 536.
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