Midweek Money: Beware the three-eyed driver

He had an eye on cars in front, one on approaching lorries and one on the woman behind. And he's not alone.

Are we about to witness the end of a great British tradition? Forget about tea ceremonies or other obscure rituals - this is to do with the tendency of insurance policy-holders to make unintentionally hilarious gaffes when making claims. Each year, Britain's insurers face many hundreds of thousands of claims and pay out billions. The claims cover every conceivable traumatic event, including fires, car thefts, problem holidays, storms and break-ins. Each time, the victim has to contact a broker or insurance company to tell them the story. Some are tragic, but, at times, things don't come out quite as the claimant intended... A Norwich Union spokeswoman explains: "Part of it has to do with the way we used to expect people to claim. There they were, probably traumatised, yet we expected them to fill in long, complicated forms. "These days, we simply expect policy-holders to call us. Our operators fill in the forms, so the gaffes we saw in the past are no longer likely." Andrew Baud, an Eagle Star spokesman, adds: "Nowadays, claiming is easy. You just make a call. We will arrange to have things fixed straight away." Insurers' new idiot-proof claim-handling systems will make the more obvious linguistic mistake less likely. But we can at least enjoy the last of the claimants' gaffes.

Motor claims l "I started to slow down, but the traffic was more stationary than I thought." l "I pulled into a lay-by with smoke coming from under the bonnet. I realised the car was on fire so I took my dog and smothered it with a blanket." l "I had one eye on a parked car, another on approaching lorries and another on the woman behind." l "I was going down the car-park ramp when I hit a giant plastic mouse." l "Insured failed to observe end of pier and careered off into Irish Sea." l "I didn't think the speed limit applied after midnight." l "I knew the dog was possessive about the car but would not have requested her to drive if there were any risk." l "The car in front hit the pedestrian but he got up, so I hit him again." l "Coming home, I drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree I don't have." l "The indirect cause of the accident was a little guy in a small car with a big mouth."

Household claims l "Clothes were left in front of the fire. Some bright spark set my cardigan alight." l "I am black and blue under my private parts. I would like you to look into this asap." l "Arm broke off while putting on the spectacles." l "My husband, myself and the dog were the only people in the house and he is deaf unless he wears his hearing aid." l "My little boy cut holes in the curtains to see if Santa was coming." l "I found a hare in the bath which proved to be a crack."l "The cost of replacing said spectacles was pounds 71.30. This is not an estimate, as I have already bought them following a long conversation with a parking meter which I took to be a hyperthyro id bald dwarf." l "It is my practice every year to turn off the water at the beginning of the frost season and not to use the lavatory again until spring." l "At the present time I have a functional watch of little value and likewise my husband." l "PS: If you do not receive this letter, please let me know."

How To Make a Motor Claim

l Get as much on-the-spot information about the other party/parties as possible. This includes name, address, make and model of car, registration number, name of other insurer and his or her policy number.

l Give your details to any other party affected by the accident.

l Get the names and addresses of any independent witnesses. Take pictures of any damage and make a sketch of the accident scene while it is still fresh in your mind.

l If anyone is injured, you should produce your documents at a police station within 24 hours. Be prepared to make a statement.

l To make a claim, follow procedures for household claims and do as requested by the company or broker.

l Tell your insurers about any statement made at the scene by any of the parties. Never discuss whose fault it was. Inform your insurers as soon as possible.

l When making a claim for repairs, always wait for the insurer's go- ahead before allowing a garage to fix any damage.

l If you have third party, fire and theft (TPT) cover, you will not be covered for accidental damage to your car. You must pay the repair bill yourself and claim it from the other driver.

l If so, write to the other driver saying you intend to claim from him/her and asking them to contact their insurer. If you have the details, write to the other insurer, giving details of the accident and sending estimates of the repair bill.

l For the insurer to respond to your TPT claim, it must be asked to do so by the other driver. If the third party refuses, consult a lawyer, motoring organisation or your own insurance company.

l If your car is stolen, immediately inform the police and your insurer. You may have to wait a few days to see if the car is found before claiming.

How To

Make A

Household

Claim

ALL POLICIES spell out the risks they cover and those they don't. To make a claim you should:

l Read your policy and make sure the loss you have suffered is covered.

l Decide which policy covers the loss. As a general rule, buildings policy covers the structure of a building, interior decorations, fixtures and fittings. Contents policy covers the possessions you would take if you moved.

l If you are not sure, call the insurers.

l Ask the insurer or broker for a claim form.

l Complete the form as quickly as possible and return it with estimates of the cost of repair or of replacement of stolen goods. Set the facts down in your own words.

l If you are dealing with a company that accepts claims over the phone, jot down a few points as to what happened and how. Make sure you have any relevant documents.

l If you have a "new-for-old" policy, you can claim for the full cost of repairs or replacement. An "indemnity" policy means you may have to deduct a percentage for wear and tear.

l If you can't get estimates quickly, send off the form anyway with a letter saying they will follow shortly.

l If you have suffered theft, vandalism or malicious damage, tell the police right away.

l Keep damaged items, as the insurers may want to see them. Try to find receipts or professional valuations to show the company if needed.

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