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A VEHICLE IS STOLEN WITH THE KEYS LEFT IN – UNLOCK THE TRUTH!

POSTED ON June 13th

As anti-theft devices in vehicles become ever more sophisticated, thieves look to prey on those who leave their keys in their vehicles.

It’s understandable that insurers expect policyholders to take ‘reasonable care’ when both using their vehicles and leaving them unattended. And while the insurance companies’ requirement to keep your asset safe is logical and well documented, there’s a particular exclusion that has been a thorny issue for many years.

If a vehicle or its contents are stolen and the keys were left in the ignition, not all insurers will pay out. And while insurers’ position on petrol forecourt theft is well known, what is not often considered is cover for those types of vehicles which are used to operate tools of the trade, and which require the engine to be running for the ‘tool’ to operate.

Lack of knowledge of industry vehicles and practises means that insurers’ stance on what is defined as ‘reasonable care’ can vary. There are many examples where it may be necessary to leave the keys in the ignition whilst the cab is left unattended. These include skip loaders, which have a hydraulic lifting arm operated from beside the cab rather than in it, and cement mixers needing the keys in the ignition to turn the drum; often these scenarios would be excluded under a standard fleet wording.

The leading case on leaving a vehicle unattended is still Starfire Diamond Rings Ltd v Angel (reported in 1962 in Volume 2 of the Lloyd’s Law Reports at page 217) where a definition of a vehicle being ‘attended’ was determined as:

“there must be someone able to keep it under observation, that is, in a position to observe any attempt to interfere with it, and who is so placed as to have a reasonable prospect of preventing any unauthorised interference with it”.

Lord Denning (in the Court of Appeal)

As such, the key fact for insurers to establish is whether the vehicle has been left ‘unattended’. In subsequent cases this has been deemed as the driver moving so far away from the vehicle that it would be unlikely that they could prevent the theft. However, this test is not always as straightforward to apply to commercial vehicles which are used to operate tools of the trade.

Clearly, the ‘keys in car’ clause is a common but restrictive exclusion. As a result, the Financial Ombudsman says insurers must highlight it when the policy is sold, or ensure it’s clearly stated in any summary provided with the full policy.

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