£23,000 for diarrhoea "that went wrong"

Updated on 18 October 2011 | 9 Comments

Neil Faulkner looks at claims in the tens and even hundreds of thousands paid out by insurance companies.

Many travel insurance policies offer cover in the millions of pounds, sometimes tens of millions, but how much do insurers have to pay out in reality? I was interested in finding out after Essential Travel revealed to me some of its impressive claims, including £23,000 for diarrhoea “that went wrong”. (As if diarrhoea wasn't messy enough without it going wrong as well.)

Inspired by the diarrhoea sufferer's successful claim, I contacted another 29 travel insurers to see what the biggest claims were. Of those insurers who got back to me, here are the biggest claims they paid out on:

1. More than half a million pounds

Massive insurer Aviva is the clear winner. It told me that the largest payout in the past year or so was £600,000 for a man in his 40s who suffered a brain haemorrhage in America. America is one of the most expensive places for insurers, due to the high cost of medical treatment, which is why we always pay more for insurance when visiting there.

Aviva's smallest claim is for a mere £2.50 for a stolen wallet, which was presumably nothing more than an old sock with a 20 cent piece in it or something. It probably cost the claimant more in calls and letters – but it still wasn't the smallest claim that was revealed to me. Read on.

2. £350,000 for another

The highest medical claims AA have experienced in the past have been up to one third of a million, which shows what travel insurance could do for you if you are very, very unlucky.

In contrast, the AA reports that it has paid pence for bruises and such like, after excesses were paid.

3. A quarter of a million on bad timing

The most expensive claim at Direct Line in recent years has been for a very premature baby born in America which totalled £280,000, including costs of $10,000 a night for treatment in hospital and £60,000 for an air ambulance back to the UK.

The least expensive claims have been for refreshment costs during a delay to a flight, such as claims for a sandwich and a drink.

4. £185,000 on deadly internal explosions

A subarachnoid haemorrhage is as dreadful and costly as it sounds. Ian Crowder of the AA describes it as “A leak from a major blood vessel in the brain – it can happen without any warning and is very serious.” This claim from the insurer is ongoing, but the total cost is likely to be over £185,000.

5. £150,000 in more bills

Insurer LV= estimated that its biggest claim in recent years was in the region of £150,000 for a medical condition. After an excess of £50, it estimates its smallest claim was for around £70.

6. £90,000 from free insurance!

Nationwide tells me that it paid out more than £90,000 in Spain to someone using its free, European multi-trip insurance attached to its current account, which I wrote about in Free travel insurance and breakdown with your current account. Again, this was for medical expenses, which is very clearly the area where insurers pay the most, and where travel insurance is therefore proving most useful to customers in direst need.

7. Another claim near £100,000

Essential Travel had a massive claim for haemorrhagic lesions costing just under £90,000. Like the haemorrhages paid for by Aviva and the AA, these also happened in the US.

8. Small fry, at just £70,000

Our final claim is another one from essentialtravel.co.uk, this time for cellulitis in Canada for just shy of £70,000. Cellulitis is a skin infection caused by bacteria that usually goes away after a week or two of antibiotics, painkillers, and raising the infected area above the heart to reduce swelling, but you may have intensive hospital treatment if you get a very high temperature, persistent vomiting or an infection through the eyes, or if you have a very weak immune system.

Essential Travel wins on the smallest specified payout, being a mere £1.65 for diarrhoea – which very clearly didn't go wrong!

Getting travel insurance

It seems like the £5m and £10m medical limits we often get with travel insurance is more for show, since we'll almost certainly never call on it. Even so, the above are frighteningly large claims, and they're not the only ones. Virgin Money also had a claim for £60,000 for example. (And one for a just £3!)

But we shouldn't panic: clearly these large claims can't happen very often, or we couldn't buy single trip insurance for a mere £7 or annual family cover for £45.

Travel insurance is cheap because of its many exclusions, but so many insurers are fighting for business that you can get competitive features at low prices, so you can expect to get value for money. Ultimately, if you shop around, you should pay a fair price for the cover you get.

More: Compare travel insurance through lovemoney.com | Get £100,000 if you can't work | Admit it: you're a smoker


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