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Posts Tagged ‘insurance claims’

The customer is always right

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

There’s an old saying in business that the customer is always right.  You can see why it was coined, upset your customer, say goodbye to business, the logic seems undeniable.  However, as legal agents, are we able to be that flexible?  There’s no real problem when Mrs Gruttock insists on surrounding her lawn with daffodils when the gardener thinks shrubs will be more effective.  However, when we are asked to undertake tasks we have a responsibility to the courts as well as to our clients so it is a bit different.

Over the years we have been asked to check evidence submitted to the courts by our client’s opponents – usually sketch plans and photographs.  I’ve no doubt that there are occasions when someone on the “other side” queries our work and that is fine with me as we only submit evidence that is honest regardless of whether it suits one party more than the other.  Basically it is a “What we see is what you get” situation.

Sadly there are instances where what we are shown from other sources is definitely not what you would see at the site.  The usual discrepancies relate to distance which can be crucial where speed and visibility are factors in the case.  I’ve seen distances “shortened” by the use of a telephoto lens on the camera and then underestimated on the sketch plan.  It is only a sketch plan after all so nobody should expect 100% accuracy but a 50% discrepancy (seen a few years back) is stretching things too far.  Quite recently I realised that a plan showed a line of vision that did not exist.  I had reason to talk to the person who had prepared the plan (not one of our agents I would stress) and was told “That’s what my clients wanted”.  I suggested that doctoring a plan to mislead was hardly honest and to do it and sign the declaration on the paperwork was asking for trouble.  I could cite many more examples but will not bore you with them.

We take the view that we should tell our client exactly what is at an accident scene.  Some may suggest that anything unhelpful should not be conveyed to the client but if we don’t tell them the other side certainly will.  Worse still if that damaging information comes to light in the course of a court hearing where the judge might gain the impression that evidence had been suppressed.  If a lawyer is on a conditional or fixed fee case he/she wants to run a good solid case so weaknesses need to be exposed sooner rather than later – if the litigant is proven to be a liar in court it is not going to reflect well on the team that has been supporting that individual.  Costs allocation can be an effective form of “punishment” as we all know.

So, is the customer always right in any situation?  Claims handlers pay us to report to them and we endeavour to do so as accurately as possible – why pay for information and then ignore it?  At the end of the day we are trying to help our clients make an informed decision and if that is to tell a litigant his case is flawed or recommend to an insurer that a claim should be paid then so be it.  I am pleased to say that, fortunately, most of our investigations support our clients and then we are all happy!

Staged Accidents

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Driving along the dual carriageway on your way home from work, you’re travelling at a reasonable speed, keeping your distance from the vehicle in front and following a route you have done so many times before, but tonight is going to be different, tonight you are going to be involved in a staged accident.

A car overtakes you and pulls in front of you, instead of speeding up and pulling away however, they start to gradually slow.  Becoming frustrated you look in your mirror for an opportunity to pull out and overtake, but by now other vehicles are passing you.

As you approach a slip road to the left one of the overtaking vehicles passes you and the car in front before cutting across their path very sharply to take the exit.  The car in front brakes hard, you brake too but there is nothing you can do and you can’t avoid rear ending the vehicle in front.  You have probably just been involved in a staged accident, but did you realise this?

How about another situation where you are waiting to join a roundabout?  Visibility is good and when the vehicle in front moves off you see that you should have no problem entering the roundabout too.  Just before you cross the give way lines you make a final check to the right and everything is still clear, you look back in the direction you are heading and in horror realise that the car in front has stopped dead for no apparent reason.  You brake, but are far too close to avoid a collision.  The other driver quickly gets out and says aggressively to you “Didn’t you see the motorcycle that came round the roundabout very quickly?”  Well did you?  Of course you didn’t, because they didn’t exist and once again you have been involved in a staged accident.

In both of these cases it would appear that you are totally to blame as you simply cannot go round driving into the back of other cars in most circumstances.  Your insurers will receive a claim for the damage to the other vehicle, a claim for personal injury to the other driver and probably passengers (some of whom might not have even been in the vehicle), along with a claim for hiring a replacement vehicle.  In total if the claim is successful this will net the fraudsters many thousands of pounds, but will your insurer realise what has happened?

Insurers are generally very alert to fraudulent and staged accidents and will frequently instruct a firm of experienced motor accident investigators like Geoden Agency to carry out staged accident investigations to try and uncover the truth, potentially allowing a claim to be rejected and possibly even leading to criminal proceedings against the gang of fraudsters.

If you think you have been involved in a staged accident and your insurers don’t seem to be taking notice of your concerns, then Geoden Agency might be able to assist you.  There is some motor claims advice on the Geoden Agency website and they will be happy to carry out further investigations in the hope of producing evidence which can be provided to your insurers to assist your case.

Credit Hire – A necessary evil or just evil?

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Frequently after a motor accident there is one driver who is completely blameless and another who must accept responsibility for the accident they have caused and as such according to the law of the land, must also compensate the other driver for the losses they incur.  This compensation is usually handled by the at fault driver’s insurance company.

One of the big areas of claim now relates to the hire of a replacement vehicle while the non fault driver’s car is off the road being repaired or while they await receipt of the total loss cheque for their vehicle.

The non fault driver will frequently be introduced to a credit hire firm by their insurer, broker or body shop.  That firm will usually tell them that they can hire an equivalent car to their own for as long as they need at no cost to themselves as all the charges will be reclaimed from the at fault driver’s insurance.

A credit hire firm however is not a usual car hire company.  As the name suggests, their vehicles are hired out and the charges are on a credit basis allowing them to be recovered from the at fault driver’s insurance before payment is required.  It is generally accepted that the cost of anything purchased using credit rather than cash is higher and this is usually the case with credit hire vehicles.

The use of credit hire means that everyday, insurers are receiving claims for credit car hire totalling many thousands of pounds which are much higher than if the vehicles had been hired on a cash or spot hire basis.

There is case law that basically states that an innocent driver is only allowed to recover the spot hire rates unless they can prove that they had no alternative other than to approach a more expensive credit hire company.  This is where credit hire comes into its own and can provide a valuable, if not expensive, service to innocent drivers.

Vehicle repairs can take some time, which can mean that the cost of hiring alternative transport, even from a cheaper spot hire firm, could be prohibitive to many people.  The legal term for this is that the hirer is impecunious.  This leaves them with no option, but to resort to credit hire or do without a vehicle which might be essential for their daily life.

Credit hire firms also generally have a more generous acceptance criteria than standard hire firms, which means they can often hire to young / older drivers or convicted drivers which other hire firms would not be able to accommodate.  Again these drivers have no option but to resort to credit hire or forgo a vehicle whilst theirs is off the road.

Geoden Agency can assist credit hire firms in showing that their client had no option but resort to the use of credit hire through their claimant credit hire investigation services.  These include taking a statement from the Claimant setting out their financial position or surveying the spot hire market to show lack of available alternatives to the Claimant.

Geoden Agency can also help motor insurers and defendant solicitors when faced with a credit hire claim.  Their defendant credit hire claims investigations include services such as spot hire rates investigations and status reports on claimants to minimise the risk of an impecuniosity defence.

Does Google Streetview mean the death of the locus report?

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

It was recently suggested to me that the 95% coverage of the country claimed by Google Streetview was going to finish off the need to supply “sketch plan and photographs” in the legal agency field.  It may look like it but I must beg to differ.

I cannot recall how many of these locus jobs I have done over the years but each one has been different and the requirements of the instructing office have been equally varied.  Some locations seem to generate accidents so we have been back to the same location more than once but each visit has had a new set of requirements.

We are often asked to check traffic patterns at specific times of day and how the street environment is “used” by the various types of traffic and pedestrians.  I can recall more than one occasion where I have been sitting in my car at an accident scene waiting for the sun to rise in order to check visibility and the effect of dazzle on motorists.  The many elements needing to be checked appear to be infinite in their variety and combinations.

So, are the days of standing at the roadside clipboard and camera in hand recording relevant data gone forever?  I don’t think so.  It is obvious that some people are introducing downloaded prints of Streetview scenes into the courts but this is a practice which is almost certainly going to come back and bite those individuals on their nether regions.

Let’s have a look at Streetview and its copyright images and see why this could all go horribly wrong.  There are lots of lovely colour pictures easily accessible for free and not involving much effort – sounds great doesn’t it?  Just look at those lively street scenes, well not always lively as many have been taken on a Sunday morning with hardly any traffic around but at least you can see the street markings.  Well, yes, sometimes but lower screen material is often distorted but we can live with that surely, unless of course you want to know the height of the kerb or the quality of that road repair or the condition of the street furniture or anything else that isn’t visible from about 3 metres up in the air.  We’ll ignore the screen joins as well and try and guess at any slopes so that’s probably not too bad.  The number plate obscuring software also seems to work on some road name plates.

Mentioning the camera position brings me to another problem.  Most of the accidents we get to deal with are at junctions and the usual need is for data on the visibility for emerging drivers.  This is easily checked by an investigator on the scene but virtually impossible on Streetview where the picture has been taken from the carriageway by a camera mounted on a tall pole – not exactly what the average motorist is going to see is it?  A photographer can also see and record some worn street markings which do not always show up on Streetview.

Our main office is based in Mid Sussex and it appears that our Streetview pictures are amongst the most recent so let’s have a look at them.  Firstly there’s my Citroen parked outside the office (car written off in late 2009), then to the local petrol station where a bargain can be had with fuel at 97p a litre, never mind let’s go past the busy off-licence (shut down months ago) into town and go along the main street.  There’s the carpet store (also closed months ago) and the pub (not only closed but demolished as well).  Turning the other way we can follow the main road unblemished by the current road markings and parking areas.  By now you probably get the general idea and the situation elsewhere is even worse – go into London and see the busy Woolworth’s stores – it’s like having your own little time machine.

If you knew exactly when the pictures were taken it might not be so bad but this is not shown and I hardly think that Google will be overly keen on sending their cameraman to court to verify his photography.  Furthermore how are you going to get this material into court as evidence?  If the views are printed off (copyright issues?) they can easily be tampered with so do you have numerous monitors set up in court so that all parties can see the same screen view live from the internet at the same moment?  Personally I cannot see it happening.

The whole concept of using Streetview as a locus photography tool seems a bit of a car crash to me which is why I am not too worried.  We are called in to help clear up the aftermath of crashes every day and I guess that being asked to sort things out after people have tried to take short-cuts with Streetview will just be another source of business.

Geoden Agency has for over 20 years prepared profession locus reports and photographs, these include a personal visit to the location and take into consideration the relevant and often unique features of the road layout / local environment at that point.