Driving Substitute Vehicles
On most days, the world is straightforward. We get out of bed, eat breakfast, gently roll the vehicle out on to the road and start driving. But every now and again, the routine is disrupted and then the small print in your insurance policy takes on a new significance. Now you will really find out what you bought. As an example, let’s travel over to North Carolina where a family owned several vehicles. The husband usually drove a Toyota Sequoia but, on the fateful morning, his wife told him there was a possible problem with the brakes and she was taking it in for service. He therefore set off for work in the Mitsubishi Montero. He was hit from the rear and the vehicle rolled over, landing him in hospital and six months of rehabilitation before he was able to return to work.
The driver at fault only carried the minimum liability coverage of $30,000 and had no assets – he was not worth suing. But the policy on the Sequoia issued by the Companion Property and Casualty Insurance Company, carried losses of up to $1 million under an uninsured and medical payments policy. There was a provision giving coverage if the insured was driving a “temporary substitute auto”. On the face of it, this seems to cover driving the Montero. His usual vehicle needed repairs. The Montero was a temporary substitute. But, as is always the case, the insurer refused to pay. For something that looks obvious, this has generated several years of litigation. Starting in January 2005, we have been through three levels of court, ending in the North Carolina Supreme Court which did not reach a decision, but sent it back down to the original court for a full hearing on the facts. So, after almost six years, we are back where we started and no further forward.
This is yet another of those horror stories showing that attorneys and the courts they work in can tie a case up in knots for years without ever reaching a final decision. What’s interesting about this particular story is the extent to which an innocent buyer of insurance can end up the victim in the system. Here’s a man who owns two vehicles and, in good faith, he buys a policy that not only says it covers him when driving the nominated vehicle, but also when he’s driving a temporary substitute. Anyone looking at such a policy would imagine he was covered against all reasonable situations in which a claim might arise. Indeed, our policy holder has, from the start, alleged the insurer made the sale and subsequently acted in an unfair and deceptive way.
This leads us to two conclusions. Everyone should take the time to read all the terms of the policies offered, whether as full-price or cheap car insurance and, if there is any doubt in your mind as to the extent of the coverage, always ask specific questions. Secondly, if what you were told before you buy is later denied, get a good attorney who is prepared to fight for your rights. Get cheap car insurance and make the insurer pay!