Crash driver's damaging experience: Tyre defect of which motorist was unaware halted insurance payout

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JIM WILSON thought that as long as he kept paying the premiums for fully comprehensive insurance on his car he could rely on his insurer to pay up if he had an accident.

Last April, after he had been driving for 23 years without causing an accident, Mr Wilson's Ford Sierra Sapphire shunted into a Fiesta that had stopped in front. This in turn bumped into the car in front of it, so three cars suffered damage amounting to around pounds 4,000 or pounds 5,000.

'I have never denied that the accident was my fault,' he says. 'I had a lapse of concentration and did not notice that the car in front of me had stopped.

'I did, however, think that the whole purpose of having comprehensive insurance was to cover such eventualities.'

But the engineer who was sent to inspect his car after the accident reported that the tyre tread in the middle of both rear wheels was less than 1.6mm. This made them illegal.

The insurance, which had been taken out via the brokers Swinton, was with Ibex Motor Policies of Canterbury at Lloyd's. Its claims manager, Mr Michael Kavanagh, said: 'It appears to be accepted by Mr Wilson that his vehicle was in an illegal condition at the time of the accident, and accordingly underwriters are entitled to refuse indemnity.'

But Mr Wilson does not accept that it was reasonable to expect him to be aware of the state of the tyres on his F-registration car.

It had been professionally serviced, and just two weeks before the accident he had taken it to a refit centre to have the oil and filter changed. The centre was doing a free exhaust and tyre check. It did not alert him to any possible problem.

Mr Wilson, a hospital pathology manager, said the garage where the vehicle was taken after the accident also did not spot the tyre defects, which the inspector said had been caused by the tyres being over-inflated.

He is also annoyed about the delay in settling the matter. He lives at Taunton, Somerset, and needs a car to get to work with the Nuffield Hospital Group. He has had to buy another car, a solid Volvo, as he is on call.

'It appears that I will have to write off my car despite the fact that I thought I was fully covered by comprehensive insurance,' he says. 'My solicitor advises me that it could take a large amount of money and a great deal of time to go to court over the issue.'

He has complained to Lloyd's internal complaints department. This handles around 2,000 complaints a year. If it cannot provide a satisfactory solution acceptable to both parties the complainant can then go to the insurance ombudsman. Lloyd's has umbrella membership of the scheme.

The Association of British Insurers said this week that all policies required motorists to keep vehicles in a roadworthy condition. Anyone with a dispute over the condition of a car could argue about the extent any defect contributed to an accident.

Insurance companies do not normally enforce their policies strictly and will pay out in the absence of fraud, deception or negligence.

(Photograph omitted)

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