I was visiting one of my alpine clients when one of those totally unexpected disasters happened. We were driving along a winding, narrow road and had a nasty head-on accident with one of my client’s 4wd vehicles. It was one of those unfortunate situations where nobody was really to blame. We both got caught with minimal steering in black ice. All I saw was a massive bull bar coming at us at a frightening pace.
My beloved BMW sustained major damage. We were not hurt, thanks to effective German engineering, but I was shocked and angry. After all the steam and smoke died down, the staff in the 4wd were treated to the highly amusing sight of their communication skills trainer (me) leaping out of what remained of his car, losing it in a big way, and soundly abusing the other driver who just happened to be their ‘safe driving in the snow’ instructor. After I calmed down, even I could appreciate the irony.
A short time later I rang my insurance company, who organised to pick up the wreck and transport it back to Melbourne. ‘This is good service’, I thought to myself. ‘Thank God I had the means to afford top dollar insurance’.
The repair shop was brilliant. They lent me a near new car (not required under the insurance policy) stripped my car immediately and prepared a quote — $20,000 worth of damage! They even invited me in, and explained that they were going to replace the whole front of the car with new parts. Great! They commenced the repair immediately, before approval from the insurance company came through.
I went about my work with minimal disruption and congratulated myself on my choice of insurance, and my luck at having the world’s best repair shop. Five weeks went by and things were going along nicely when the phone rang. It was the son of the repair shop owner: ‘Mr Eldred, could I get you to ring your insurance company? We still haven’t got approval for your repairs and the job is three quarters complete — this is unusual.’ I had that sinking feeling you get when you realise something is wrong.
I rang them straight away, and was referred to the claims manager. ‘Mr Eldred, I have to inform you that we are rejecting your claim for the accident and returning your premium to you.’
‘Why?’ I asked, in a state of shock. He replied in an officious tone, of a kind normally reserved for criminals and lowlife scumbags: ‘Mr Eldred, you did not disclose your driving history to us on your renewal form. If we had known the full picture we would not have insured your car’.
I began to see red. ‘I did disclose it to you, and besides, I’ve got a good driving history.’ His reply was steely and precise: ‘I’m sorry Mr Eldred; we’ve made our decision. You only returned a cheque each year to us, and not the disclosure form that came with your annual renewal. I’m not going to argue with you. Your claim is denied. You will receive a letter from us confirming our decision. Good day, Mr Eldred.’
I was dumbfounded. I was suddenly up for twenty grand I thought I was covered for. Oh Jeeeeeezus. I searched back through my memory and was sure I’d completed their stupid disclosure forms — but not sure enough to swear on a stack of Bibles. I just had this nagging recall of writing something on an insurance form about two years ago. A search through our files only yielded the insurance certificate. I was at my wit’s end and spent the next two days in a state of high anxiety.
The insurance certificate remained on my desk to haunt me. I’d been paying $1,200 a year for the damned thing and now it appeared to be part of a corporate bad taste joke. I re-read the details again and again — and suddenly a thought raced through my brain. I reached for the phone and asked for the claims manager. He took my call with a resigned sigh of irritation.
‘Are you still maintaining that all I sent you was a cheque, and no other documents?’ I asked as assertively as I could. ‘Yes, Mr Eldred, that’s correct,’ he replied. I took a deep breath — this was a $20,000 conversation, and I didn’t want to screw it up. ‘If that’s the case, how did you find out the name of my partner, who is named on my policy certificate as a nominated driver of the car? Are you people psychic? I believe you could have only got that information from the forms I returned to you, and I’m placing the whole matter in the hands of . . .’ (and I named a particular gung-ho legal firm, known for their hatred of insurance companies).
There was a moment’s silence, then: ‘I’ll get back to you Mr Eldred’ Click. Dial tone.
The phone rang a couple of hours later and a soothing, grovelling voice oozed from the receiver. ‘Mr Eldred, we’ve made a terrible mistake. We’ve found your forms, and you did disclose your full driving record. I will authorise the repairs to your vehicle right now.’ I went on the offensive: ‘Hang on a minute. Are you telling me I did disclose my driving history and you still chose to insure me? A few days ago you tried to get out of paying on the grounds that if I had disclosed, you would have declined the policy.’
‘It appears we have made a mistake’, he whined. ‘Bulls**t’. I said.
Keep copies of all your correspondence with insurance companies, folks.