Fair Go: Invercargill man fights for insurance payout after car stolen while engine running in driveway on frosty southern morning

Gill Higgins
Source: Fair Go

Josh Dennison from Invercargill was left scratching his head after insurers told him his comprehensive car insurance wouldn't pay out after his car was stolen from his driveway.

The incident happened early in the morning as Josh was getting ready to go to work.

He'd only had the car for a few weeks. His wife Rhyanon describing it as "his first sensible car".

As per his usual routine on a frosty morning, Josh had popped outside to give their new puppy a run in the garden, at the same time starting the car to defrost the windscreen.

The defrosting only took a few minutes and Josh would put Reggie the puppy back inside, grab his mug of tea and his packed lunch and head out the door.

But on this particular morning he'd noticed a car pull up across the road.

He lives on a suburban street, so it didn't seem that unusual. But when he took Reggie back inside to pick up his lunch, the passenger from the car ran up his drive, jumped into Josh's car and put his foot down to make his getaway.

Josh could see his car from the kitchen window so saw and heard events unfurl.

He dropped his lunchbox and ran out the door, but it was too late.

"I couldn't believe my eyes...I didn't know what to do, whether to ring the police or to jump in my wife's car to chase him."

Josh decided to call the police thinking they had a better chance of tracking the car down. He also needed to alert them for his insurance.

At this point he was relieved he had a comprehensive policy, that stated theft was included.

But when he called Tower Insurance they said they would decline the claim and advised him to withdraw it, as otherwise it would be hard for him to get insurance elsewhere.

Tower's reasoning was that Josh's car was unlocked and running while unattended and therefore the theft was down to his lack of responsibility.

In an email to Josh, "unattended" is clarified as meaning being left where Josh wouldn’t be able to see it, but Josh can see his car from the kitchen window.

"Unattended" can also refer to leaving the car where the chance of stopping any theft is reduced, but Josh feels this doesn't apply because even if he'd been standing next to his car "these guys could have been armed ... so I'd have let them take the car as I wasn't going to put my body on the line".

Relevant to this is that there had been several incidents in Invercargill around that time, including someone being stabbed in an armed robbery just down the road from their house.

Five days later, the police stopped the car with spikes on the road after a chase. It was a write-off. Josh needed transport in order to get to his workplace out in the country, so turned to "the bank of Mum" for a loan.

He also turned to Fair Go for help, believing he deserved his insurance pay out.

We felt Josh had a strong argument and so we drew Tower's attention to the Insurance Law Reform Act which we understand to say a claim shouldn't be rejected if a person's actions don't increase the chance of theft.

As Josh rightly points out it would be different if the car had been parked on the street, but it was up his driveway, and someone had to enter his property to steal it.

Tower said they would review the claim, and Fair Go's happy to report they quickly had a change of heart.

They sent a statement with a few reminders, saying it's important to keep your car, and your keys, safe and secure.

It also pointed out that it does have a formal review process in place for customers, and that as part of this, they'll be accepting this claim.

Great news for Josh, and indirectly for his Mum, as he explains, "I was ecstatic. Obviously needed the money to pay my parents back. We're over the moon about it".

As for the future? Josh recommends two sets of keys, one to start the engine to defrost the car, the other to lock it while the defrosting is underway. Simple.