Cedric Stephens, Contributor
My wife and I own a 2004 Nissan Sunny. It is comprehensively insured. On October 24, 2012, I was travelling along Elletson Road. I drove through the light-controlled Victoria Avenue junction when it was green. Another car heading west along Windward Road, disobeyed the red light and ran into my car's left front fender. Passengers in the other vehicle were injured. My car was spun around to face the opposite direction.
The accident was reported to the police that same day and, a few days later, to our brokers. The estimate of repairs totalled J$304,615. The insurance investigator and I visited the accident scene on November 23.
We learned in December that the assessor reduced the estimate to J$240,606 and that the insurer had offered payment to us instead of repairing the vehicle. The excess was J$63,000 which we would have to pay and seek recovery from the other driver; J$50,000 was included in case additional damage was discovered when the car was dismantled. The repair was estimated to last six days. Loss of use would be limited to that period at J$1,800 per day.
We rejected the offer and asked the insurer to repair the vehicle. When repairs were authorised in February, the cost of parts had increased. Another estimate was prepared in mid-February. Can the repair process be fast-tracked? Can we do anything other than watch the insurer move at the pace of a snail? Four months have passed and we are still without a car.
- Frustrated Couple.
HELPLINE: The editors of this newspaper are to be congratulated on the 'Customer Service: Help or Horror' feature last Thursday.
There is a direct link between the three articles - one of which named some government bodies but failed to identify the privately owned commercial banks and where "sweating, public-sector workers, cashiers, vendors, contract workers and tradesmen (who waited in long lines) ... and often suffered at the hands of their employers" - and the question you posed.
You, like most of us, share a similar nightmare: poor customer service. A piece that I wrote on January 8 this year "Customer care takes backseat to claims service" (the headline should have read 'takes backseat in claims service') spoke to insurers' duty under Section 11 of the Insurance Act, 2001, "to implement a policy for settlement of claims without undue delay".
The non-settlement of your claim since December, when you wisely rejected the offer of settlement, appears excessive.
There was a reference in the same article to a non-executive director of an insurance company who recently said to me in disapproving manner that I was "always writing about car crashes".
Guess what? He is a member of the board of your insurer. Is there any connection between that fact and the very slow movement of the company's motor claim process or, is it simply a twist of fate?
By now, you should be getting the message. The process of repairing your car is dependent on the efficiency in the insurance company, the brokers, investigators, assessors, repairers, parts suppliers, etc.
Quality of service
Attitudes of employees, management and directors, the policies and procedures that are implemented and training affect how customers are treated and the quality of the service they receive. No one switch can be turned on to speed up the repair process.
The brokers misinformed you about loss-of-use. Insurers who settle loss-of-use claims do so on behalf of the at-fault party.
They base their offers on what loss adjusters say. Loss adjusters, on the other hand, estimate with the repairer the number of days the repairs will last. Delays in obtaining parts are ignored. So, too, are bottlenecks and delays due to poor planning and management by the repairer.
The daily rate paid in loss-of-use claims is a knotty issue. It depends on the type of vehicle that you, the 'accident victim', were driving at the time of the accident.
If the car that suffered the damage was a BMW, is the driver entitled to receive compensation based upon the rental rate for a Toyota Corolla, a Suzuki Vitara, a Toyota Prado SUV, or another BMW similar to the one that was damaged?
The J$1,800 per day limit is only an arbitrary minimum. It is generally used when the victim does not actually hire a replacement vehicle and is unable to prove that loss-of-use expenses were actually incurred.
Insurers examine these claims with a fine-tooth comb since some persons manufacture evidence to support their claims.
There is no guarantee that you will recover your excess and the loss-of-use expenses. What eventually happens depends on whether the other vehicle was insured, if the person who was driving had a licence and whether the third-party insurer agreed that driver caused the collision.
Finally, a reader of this column, KB, argued (Google: The Sunday Gleaner January 27, 2013 'Manoeuvring the Excess Clause') that "insurers do not have the time to address claims being submitted". This could also be one of the reasons for the snail's pace.
I asked the head of the Insurance Association of Jamaica to comment on that statement. I am still awaiting a reply nearly one month later.
Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and free advice about the management of risks and insurance. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or SMS/text message to 812-7233