Avoiding Car Insurance Claims, From Being Declined

By: Harveywilliams
There was a time many years ago when a company could be paid out on an insurance claim for no reason, other than for being a good and loyal client to the insurance company. Whilst it is possible that even today an insurance company could make a commercial decision when considering a claim from a very large client, many companies are at risk of having claims repudiated.

Contract hire companies nowadays see many cases where insurers have refused to pay out on claims following accidents. Naturally the larger a claim the more closely an insurance company will scrutinise it; if one of your company vehicles has a minor accident it does not make financial sense for the insurer to spend too much time on the claim. If however it is a major accident there are very sound commercial reasons why the insurance company will closely examine all aspects of the claim and the circumstances surrounding it. An Insurance company's obligation is to its shareholders, which doesn't include paying out on claims, if they can find good reason to invalidate it.

Many companies with company cars are not aware that the motor insurer's terms and condition state that a vehicle must not be modified in any way, without advising them of the changes. It is for this reason safer to fit the manufacturer's recommended tyres, with the correct speed rating. It is important that employees understand that they must not change or modify their company vehicle in any way, in order not to run the risk of invalidating the insurance. Some employers have discovered, following an accident, that an employee has done what is know as "chip" the company vehicle's engine. This has the effect of increasing the car's horsepower. The insurer will often, with justification, refuse to pay out a claim, because the car is more powerful than the vehicle they understood they were insuring. It also causes another problem in that it can invalidate the car's warranty. In this eventuality it could cause the contract hire or leasing company to make a claim against the hirer; if the vehicle were for example on two years contract hire, then the hirer would be returning the vehicle without its third year warranty.

Also the company car must be kept in a roadworthy condition. If a company vehicle is on contract hire, then there is usually not much to worry about; it will on average be less than two years old and regularly serviced and maintained. In a case where a company buys and keeps it's vehicles for longer than the typical contract hire term, maybe four or five years, then ensuring they are, in what an insurance company would consider is a roadworthy condition, can be more difficult. The risk of a vehicle developing a fault that could make it un-roadworthy generally increases, the higher the 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 an accident happens under different circumstances, for example where an employee's car crashes on a bend or skids out of control and causes the accident, then it is quite reasonable that the insurance company will want to ensure that the vehicle was in a roadworthy condition. Incorrect tyre pressure is one of the most common causes of newer cars being un- roadworthy. Employers should advise their employees that tyre pressures need to be checked regularly. This is best done in the morning whilst the tyres are still cold. Another good reason for ensuring that tyre pressures are correct is that it can significantly reduce the company's fuel bill.

Tyres do need to be checked for wear; probably the most practical option is to make the employee responsible. It is after all his car and his life that is at risk if he drives the vehicle in an un- roadworthy condition. The period between servicing intervals nowadays can be very long indeed. Previously, when a typical servicing interval was 12,000 miles, companies used to rely on the dealership's servicing department telling them if a tyre needed changing. That is no longer a practical option; indeed some would question whether it is ever a practical option, to rely on a servicing department, because they do appear to have a habit of changing tyres before they need to be changed.

Another risk to the company is employees driving whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs, an insurance company will not generally pay out if there is an accident under these circumstances. How many of your employees stop of for a "couple" of pints on the way home? In a study carried out in 1998, alcohol was a factor in 10% of fatal motorcycle accidents and 19% of cars and other vehicles involved in fatal crashes. In spite of greater awareness nowadays there are still drivers who seriously believe that they drive better after consuming alcohol. The evidence however shows that alcohol seriously impairs psychomotor skills and affects the brains ability to process information.

The same will apply if the employee is under the influence of drugs. The company should also take into account that an employee may be taking a prescription drug that could affect their ability to drive safely. It would perhaps not be unreasonable for a company to check with an employee if they feel this could be the case. With the new legislation that comes into force in April 2008, the company is responsible for ensuring that its employees are safe when 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.

There are employers that have never checked their employee's driving licences, relying instead on a copy provided by the member of staff. Some photocopy the original and feel that this is satisfactory. Not considering the possibility that whilst in their employment the employee could be convicted for drunk driving and continue driving whilst disqualified. In the event of an accident it is inconceivable that the insurance company would be prepared to meet the claim. New legislation introduced in April 2008, makes the employers responsibility for the safety of their employees and others, including whilst the employee is driving on company business; if there were a death the employers could find themselves prosecuted.

If a company's vehicles are sourced through a broker, the larger and well established contract hire brokers are able to offer a service where they regularly check the employee's driving licences. They can be checked when they are first employed and then at regular intervals, to make sure there are no new convictions. Once employees are aware this system is in place they are much more likely to come forward and declare a new conviction. Apart from protecting the company as far as it's insurance is concerned; it also affords it protection from prosecution under the new legislation.

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.

In summary it can help to avoid claims being declined by observing the following: Ensure that the vehicle is properly and regularly maintained; Tyre pressures should be checked at least every two weeks, preferably when cold; No modifications should be made to a vehicle, without informing the insurance company; Drivers must take action if a warning light is illuminated; Employees should be warned of the dangers of driving whilst in excess of the legal limit for alcohol consumption; Drugs, including prescription drugs, can affect a driver's ability to drive safely. Drug testing is now used by some companies, up to 80% of large US companies test for drugs, although there are concerns regarding false positives; Vehicles should never be left unattended, with the engine running; Use one of the specialist companies or a contract hire broker to regularly check employee's driving licences. Observing these points will at least help to avoid motor insurance claims being repudiated

Very often when motor insurance claims are declined, the insurer claims that the driver has been negligent. Some employers, perhaps with justification, worry that company car drivers are more prone to be negligent with the company car than they would perhaps with their own vehicle. It seems that negligence is a factor in accident claims not being paid, throughout the world; following an accident in America the insurer refused to pay a claim for accident that happened when the owner of a new motorhome thought the vehicle would drive itself after he had switched to cruise control. This did not stop him taking legal action against the manufacturer of the motorhome claiming that they should have told him that cruise control didn't encompass steering, braking and knowing where to go etc. Common sense does not appear to be a factor in the American legal system; he won his case.
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