My first real experience of insurance happened in my early 20s. I drove a car--attempted, I should say, to drive a car--from London to southern Greece and back. It was a tiny sports car, there was a blonde, and she brought a giant teddy bear that was, um, accidentally lost overboard as we took the ferry to France.
Prudent fellow that I am, I had insured the car, its contents, and the malcontents in it. Obviously, I expected catastrophic events to happen on the trip. Boy, did they.
The second most memorable of these was the night we spent outdoors, in the woods of what was then called Yugoslavia. As we slept on the lush carpet Nature had provided, someone stole everything in the car that wasn't bolted down. Having kept our valuables with us, and having insurance, we didn't care that much.
The most spectacular moment was the last one, on the coast road near Dubrovnik, on our way home. Hurtling round a bend in the rain, we found that the car ahead of us had stopped. We stopped. When I looked in my rear-view mirror, it was clear that the guy behind me, driving a solid European car with a steel chassis, towing a caravan, wasn't going to stop. We scrambled out of the car, and the guy promptly rear-ended my Austin Healey-Sprite, which bounced off the car in front and eventually found its way over the side of the mountain and down several hundred feet onto the rocks. It was like watching a cheap movie that had no budget for explosives.
But hell, we were in one piece and had insurance. A credit card got us home, and in due course I made a claim for the total loss of the automobile, and separately the contents. I sat back and waited for the checks to roll in. I'd be sitting there now if I hadn't got sick of waiting.
COLLECTING ON A CLAIM
The car first: claim denied, I objected, letters back and forth. Claim denied, I cajoled, letters back and forth. In negotiations, they offered what the car was worth at the bottom of the mountain, less recovery charges. I declined. Then it was discovered that although I had bought and paid for comprehensive coverage, the company had only issued third party. Claim denied. Enraged, I took a taxi to their office one lunch time. I stood outside waving a placard saying "This Company Cheats" or some such message.
Finally, they settled. They kept some of what they owed me for this, and some more for that, but the check was big enough to pay off what I owed on the car, so that was something.
The contents dance was just as bad. I filed my claim, accompanied by a list of items lost, photographs, and a Yugoslavian police report. This company couldn't deny the claim; it merely asked for invoices for every claimed item. I didn't have those. I might have been able to find one for a camera, perhaps, but shoes? No problem, the company said, just obtain letters from the stores where you say you bought the clothes, saying to the effect that they sold such clothes at that time at a price in keeping with what you have claimed.
I tried. Ah, how young and naive I was. I approached a dozen stores, all of whom sympathetically said they'd help if I wrote to them, which I did. Not one of them replied. I tried the insurance company again. Love to help you, Sir, and all that, and now you must be leaving.
That was more than 30 years ago. Nothing changes, does it? The impetuousness of youth, the desire for adventure and the level of personal service in the insurance industry: constants all.
ROGER CROMBIE lives in Bermuda.
May 1, 2007
Copyright 2007© LRP Publications