Insurance Helpline | To protect and under serve
QUESTION: On May 23, 2015, my motor car was involved in a collision. It was parked on the right side of the Fullerswood main road, facing the town of Black River. The hazard lights were flashing. While I was standing in front of it with my son and niece (both minors), another vehicle collided with it. I had to grab them and move to safety. The driver of the other vehicle was drunk. He was escorted to the Black River Police Station by the investigating officer. I asked that a breathalyser test be done. No one was there to conduct the test even though it was a busy Labour Day weekend. The officer said that since no one was accepting liability, the matter would be sent to the clerk of court for a decision. I am yet to receive a date when the matter will be heard. My insurance company has filed a claim against the third party. My vehicle has third-party insurance. The other driver has denied liability. His insurers say that they are still trying to get a response from him about the police report. My insurers have said that unless they get a positive response by July 31, 2016, they will leave me to recover directly from the other insurer. The police report omits two important facts. One is that the other driver was suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol. The second is that the hazard lights on my vehicle were on at the time of the collision.
Please help me.
INSURANCE HELPLINE: Your email made me angry. This wasn't due to anything that you had done. Rather, it was because three institutions that are in the protection business the mission of one is to protect and serve, the others offer protection against some of the bad things that can happen have failed to discharge their duties.
Your insurers are the best of the bad lot! However, they should be criticised for being less than upfront and for speaking to you in parables, something Jesus did well but smart insurers avoid. You should have been told that since your vehicle was rear-ended while it was parked, the third-party insurers should have agreed to settle your claim immediately they received the police report.
This is because in the vast majority of cases, according to law, the vehicle that is in the rear is going to be held liable for most or all of the fault in an accident like yours. Since the hazard lights of your vehicle were flashing and it was stationary, a reasonable person would have concluded, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that the other driver was careless. Your claim should have been accepted by the other insurer. They should have paid it without any debate or request for clarification from the other driver.
I am worried by the 12-month time limit that your insurer has imposed. They are in fact saying that the existing system of obtaining recovery from another insurer in relation to a vehicle insured in accordance with the law is dysfunctional. This is something that I have been writing about for years. Their statement means that the system for handling simple motor vehicle accidents in these days of smartphones, instant messages voice and video messaging, mobile banking, and the like requires a period of 12 months or more. To expect settlement within a shorter time frame is not realistic.
The investigating officer is a fraud, a dunce, or both! Police officers have the authority, where they have reasonable grounds to believe that someone has breached the laws, to bring criminal charges against that person. Information on the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution's website confirms this. It says: "Files are submitted from several different departments of the police force seeking rulings on evidentiary sufficiency and whether or not criminal charges should be laid."
The job of the clerk of court is not to determine liability in motor vehicle accidents. Perhaps something more sinister is at play, given what has not happened since last May.
My harshest criticism is for the third-party insurers. Like your insurers, they should know which party is liable in a rear-end collision. Additionally, they have power under a motor policy to write a cheque to the injured party - in this case, you - without reference to the owner or driver of the vehicle who rammed your vehicle. Nothing has happened in nearly nine months since the accident has occurred. One must ask: Is the third-party insurer exploiting your ignorance about the claim process and/or is it deliberately acting in bad faith in relation to your claim?
In a recent advertisement in this newspaper, one of the country's political organisations used the word integrity eight times in its full-page message. One meaning of that word, according to the online Oxford Dictionaries, is: "The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles." I have seen no evidence of that quality in the handling of your claim by the third-party insurers.
Request an appointment with a senior executive of the third- party insurer. Ask for the claim to be reviewed and for an estimate of when a decision regarding settlement will be ready. Explain that you have lost faith in the integrity of insurance companies in Jamaica and that your belief can be restored by his or her actions.
Finally, tell him or her that I will provide his company (whose identity I do not know) editorial space to challenge the admittedly one-sided conclusion that I have reached about how your claim was handled. Please let me know how the meeting turns out.
Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org