Problems with dating a root: Money Grouse

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The Independent Online
KENNETH HAINES of Haywards Heath was furious when his insurer halved a claim for more than pounds 1,000 for repairing a drain blocked by a tree root. The reason given was that the damage from the wayward root may have started many years ago, before Mr Haines took out his policy in 1988. The company was not liable to pay for damage that pre-dated its cover.

His policy was arranged by the broker Frizzell, and marketed through the National Trust. It was underwritten at Lloyd's but Frizzell had authority to make decisions over claims, after taking advice from loss adjustors. Mr Haines protested to Frizzell, stating that the damage arose in March this year. Frizzell decided to pay the claim but gave no reason for its change of heart.

This left Mr Haines concerned that there may be other such arguments in future.

'Surely insurers cannot escape liability in this way? What if the claim had been the result of a disastrous fire resulting from electrical wiring installed before the insurance was effected?'

Insurers are not legally liable for incidents that took place before a policy comes into force. In most cases, it is clear when a claim arose - if lightning strikes, for example.

But there are arguments over claims for subsidence where insurers claim that at least part of the damage arose before the policy was in force. Policyholders are faced with the prospect of trying to claim from a previous insurer although often in these cases the current insurer will pay the whole claim and recover part from the previous insurer.

Colin Taylor, director of public affairs at Frizzell, said that in Mr Haines's case the company had asked the loss adjustor to carry out further investigations. On the basis of the adjustor's findings, Frizzell decided to give Mr Haines the benefit of the doubt even though the company was not entirely convinced all the damage occurred during its period of cover.

Mr Taylor said there could be no hard and fast rules about how to treat claims where some of the damage pre-dated the company's cover. In the case of a fire caused by old wiring, the company would look sympathetically at the circumstances. The only proviso was where the policyholder knew the wiring was faulty and failed to declare this.

Write to Money Grouse, The Independent, 40 City Road, London E1CY 2DB. Please include a daytime telephone number if possible. Do not send original documents or SAEs, as we cannot guarantee to deal with every letter personally.

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