Driver discovers insurance snag after hit-and-run

Romi Janari was involved in a crash when the car behind her hit her VW Polo as she was turning left into Kendal Road, Bergvliet, at the M3 off-ramp, damaging the rear fender.

The other driver, whose father owns the Honda Civic, didn’t stop, but Ms Janari followed her to her house, in a security complex in Diep River.

Although she couldn’t gain entry, Ms Janari took pictures, noted details of the car and reported the hit-and-run to the police.

When Ms Janari tried to claim from Discovery Insure “they refused to legally represent me in a hit-and-run because my damage claim was only R3 500 and it would cost them more to utilise their attorneys”.

“They said it wasn’t in their interest. Since when does one have to have a certain amount of damage for your insurance to help you?,” the Diep River woman wondered.

“The crash happened in January (2016), she hit me and sped off and I followed her to a security residence but couldn’t go in and then I initiated a claim with Discovery Insure. My damage was R3 500 and I needed to know if there was any chance of Discovery Insure forcing the other party to pay because it was a hit-and-run,” Ms Janari said.

“Discovery took more than three months to do a licence plate search and get details of the other driver after much prompting from me. When they did get hold of the driver’s father, he denied everything and said his daughter didn’t say anything about an accident. After he saw a copy of the police report, he said his daughter admitted there was an accident but she had a different story and denied she had damaged my car even though he read the assessor’s report. Discovery said I should fix the car and pay the excess but there was no guarantee they would recover it. When I asked their legal department to help, perhaps send a summons, they said it wouldn’t be worth their while as it was too expensive to use their lawyers. My dad had a similar experience a few years ago and the insurance company won the case for him,” Ms Janari said.

“I had a final email from Discovery recently, saying the other party has gone silent and they will not continue working on my claim as it’s already cost them to work on it.”

Philippa Wild, head of technical marketing for Discovery Insure, said the damage from the accident caused by an uninsured third party was R72.12 higher than Ms Janari’s excess of R3 500.

“Initially she withdrew her claim as she did not have enough money for the excess. Despite this, we still tried to help her. We kept her updated throughout the process, and explained our actions and attempts to recover the costs from the third party,” Ms Wild said.

“When we first started trying to recover her claims cost from the third party, we told her that our attempt might not be successful. Unfortunately, we could not get the third party to admit to being liable and were not able to litigate on the matter since we had insufficient information to serve summons on the third party; the legal costs would’ve exceeded the initial excesses and may not have been recoverable,” Ms Wild said and added that according to the insurance contract, an insurer has no obligation to proceed with a recovery after a client has withdrawn their claim.

“However, Discovery Insure attempted to do this as a gesture to assist the client as far as it was viable but took a decision that the chance of recovery was limited and it was not viable to take any further legal action.

“The Short Term Insurance Ombudsman said the insurer retains the right to litigate or not.

“In addition, if the insurer does not litigate, it doesn’t prevent the client from claiming their excess in the Small Claims Court,” Ms Wild said.

She explained that about 65% of the vehicles on South African roads are not insured, making it even more important to have comprehensive insurance for your vehicle which covers you for accidental damage following a car accident.

Most insurance policies require the client to pay an excess.

“Depending on the merits of the claim this might involve contacting the third party and attempting to get them (or their insurer where applicable) to accept liability without legal means, or as a last result taking legal action. Legal action is costly and insurance practice across the industry is for this only to be taken where the chance of recovery (given the merits) is relatively high. Where two parties have vastly different stories, it is not viable to spend an excessive amount on legal fees for a low chance of recovery,” Ms Wild said.

“With Discovery Insure, if a client has a DQ-Track and an accident was caused by an insured third party, we will waive their excess up front as we know we will be able to recover the excess.”