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Payout refused after traveller left bag ‘for 15 seconds’

December 20, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Taking your eye off your bag for a moment while travelling, or leaving it more than a metre away from you in a public place, can let a travel insurer refuse payout, as a case has just shown.

A traveller visiting Switzerland walked six or seven metres to put rubbish in a bin, turned back seconds later to see his designer bag had vanished, along with its contents worth over AUD 12,000.

The man was at Zurich railway station, and stations are a favourite haunt of bag-snatchers, pickpockets and thieves of all types.

The case surfaced in a complaint to the Insurance and Financial Services Ombudsman (IFSO) in New Zealand, but the principle applies equally in Australia.

The traveller, identified only as “Mr B” took out travel insurance for his trip to Europe. In September 2017, Mr B’s designer bag was stolen when he was putting rubbish in a bin, while he had a layover at the train station in Zurich en route to Milan. The bag contained clothing, accessories and electronics, and was valued at approximately NZD 13,000 (about AUD 12,390).

Mr B made a claim to the insurer for the stolen items. The insurer declined the claim, on the basis that Mr B left the items unattended in a public place, which counts as an exclusion in most insurance policies, meaning the insurer does not have to pay out.

Mr B thought this was unfair and went to the Ombudsman, IFSO.

An IFSO document states: “The case manager reviewed the statements that Mr B made throughout the claim. The case manager placed the most weight on the description of the theft immediately after it occurred. (Other statements had Mr B outside the station with his bags on the sidewalk). At that time, Mr B advised the insurer that he put his bags down, walked 6 to 7 meters to a rubbish bin and turned away from his bags for about 15 seconds. When he turned back, he saw one of the bags was gone.

“The case manager believed the important aspect of Mr B’s conduct was that he had turned away from his bags, and could not see them, even if it was only for a short period of time. When he turned again to view his bags, one was gone. This indicated he was turned away from the bags for a sufficient period of time for someone to take the bag and exit from view.

“As such, Mr B did leave the bag ‘unattended’. The bag was not under his control; it could be taken without his knowledge; and, as he had turned away from the bag, he was not in a position to be able to prevent it from being taken, because the bag was not within his sight.

“Accordingly, the insurer was entitled to rely on the exclusion to decline the claim.”

Leaving bags “unattended in a public place” is a cmmon reason for travel insurers to refuse payout. Public places include hotel lobbies, airports, stations and beaches. Travellers must take “reasonable care” of themselves and their belongings at all times.

Written by Peter Needham

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