We spent all our money early into the trip. I worked at a bank, so I had them send enormous advances on my salary to towns we either had just left by the time the money arrived, or never reached. The tires were stolen in Rome, our belongings in the Yugoslavian countryside. Finally, a family in a tank-like Eurocar with a steel chassis smashed into my Austin Healey Sprite, a toy sports car, and pushed it over a cliff outside Dubrovnik. At's-a some fun, eh boss?
The real difficulties began in Yugoslavia. The adjuster refused to certify the car as a total loss, since he couldn't reach the bottom of the cliff where it lay, in order to assess its condition. I didn't speak a word of Serbo-Croat, but was able to extract a certificate from the police before flying home. My girl took off with the family that hit us, and I flew back to London with only the clothes I stood up in.
I had bought comprehensive motor insurance, so the insurer owed me £600. Not so, said the company. I had only bought third-party insurance, apparently, although I had paid the comprehensive premium as instructed. The company offered to refund the difference in premium between third-party and the nonexistent comprehensive cover and suggested I whistle for the loss of the car. This is known as claims control.
It was a good try. I was a twerp in my early 20s; they were a public company trading around the world. They had legal counsel coming out of their ears; I had 18 payments remaining on the car.
Separately, my personal lines insurer said it would gladly pay for my lost clothing and effects -- provided I supplied the original invoices, or letters from suppliers saying that they had sold such things at roughly the price claimed and that I might possibly have bought some of them. I did all that -- imagine the effort entailed -- but the insurer declined to pay because of something or other. Since I didn't owe any money on my shirts, I focused on the vehicle claim.
Without success. Letters went unanswered or brought a peremptory reply, at best. Eight hellish months later, I received a check for £500 and shouldered the balance myself. I believe, but cannot prove, that my Dad, whose business was insured through the same broker, gave him an ultimatum. My father was a great man for ultimata.
My employers, a bank that had sent cash all over Europe for me, never got any of it back. Not much later, they lost me, too. Impressed by the insurance industry's refusal to pay even reasonable claims without receiving a direct threat, I left the bank to take a job in a life insurance company. It led, indirectly, to my career in the bosom of the insurance community.
If you can't beat 'em -- and in the case of insurance companies, you can't -- work for 'em, I always say. It's sometimes the only way to get your hands on your money.
ROGER CROMBIE is a London-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at email@example.com
June 1, 2012
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