Accident victims could sue their own families: Insurers are checking policy wording after a High Court ruling. Caroline Merrell reports

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The Independent Online
PEOPLE who have been crippled or maimed after accidents around the home may be able to sue members of their own family for hundreds of thousands of pounds in damages under their household insurance.

The clause in some buildings insurance policies was highlighted this week by the High Court case of Martyn and Jean Ginder.

The court decided that Mr Ginder was two-thirds to blame for an accident in which his wife broke her back while trying to rescue their young son from a car-port roof. She is now confined to a wheelchair.

Her son Daniel was rescued unharmed from the roof after workmen found him dangling by his clothes caught on a nail.

The ruling will pave the way for a payout from the couple's insurer, Norwich Union. The couple's solicitor, David Shiebert of St Albans-based John Photiades & Co, believes that the compensation award, which is yet to be assessed, could be as high as pounds 800,000.

The judgment of two-thirds liability would reduce this to about pounds 500,000.

The aim of the High Court hearing was to find out the degree of liability, as Norwich Union did not dispute that the cover was in force.

Up until two years ago, the wording of NU's household insurance policies meant that the insured party was not, as it is now defined, the policyholder, the policyholder's spouse and other members of the household.

Mrs Ginder was, therefore, able to claim against her husband's household insurance under the public liability clause, which has unlimited cover.

If the policy had been worded as it is now, it would not have been possible to sue.

Mr Shiebert said he had heard about Mrs Ginder's plight. 'We heard about the accident, and pored over all their policies to see if there was anything that we could do.

'We discovered that under the household insurance policy there was no class of person that could not claim, ' he said.

He said that despite the change in the wording of the policy by Norwich Union, it was still possible for people to claim. People could claim for up to three years after they became aware that they could make a claim.

'There are a lot of ramifications. People may have missed the opportunity to sue,' he said.

If the accident involves children, the time limit does not start to come in to force until the child reaches 18.

NU said this type of cover was no longer given and the policy was changed in 1992. There could be a small number of people who could still make a claim.

Other insurers contacted, including Sun Alliance and General Accident, said they would not have to pay out under these circumstances with policies as they were now worded.

Guardian, formerly Guardian Royal Exchange, said that after the High Court judgment it immediately sent its policy documentation to its legal advisers to see whether it could face the same type of claim. The wording meant that it would not be liable, but it could not be sure that all the policies it had written in the past would be in the same category.

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