Supreme Court : ‘Collateral lies’ shouldn’t be used to reject insurance claims

Supreme Court : ‘Collateral lies’ shouldn’t be used to reject insurance claims

Landmark ruling means some lies won’t invalidate your insurance claim. Here's what this might mean.

Reena Sewraz

Household money

Reena Sewraz
Updated on 21 July 2016

The Supreme Court has ruled that insurers can no longer use ‘collateral lies’ – which are untrue, but don’t directly impact the validity of an insurance claim – to avoid payouts.

Judges voted four to one to alter one of the most important rules behind current insurance law in a case involving a Dutch cargo ship.

The verdict is likely to impact how the claims we make on things like motor and home insurance policies are handled in the future.

The case

The case involved the owners of a cargo ship, DC Merwestone, who embellished the truth when presenting a claim for €3,241,310.60 for damage when its engine room was flooded at sea.

The accident was down to bad weather but the owners lied, saying the crew couldn’t investigate the alarm because the ship was rolling in heavy weather, in order to strengthen the claim and get a quicker payout.

In the original court case a judge ruled the lie was a ‘fraudulent device’ which invalidated the claim. The Court of Appeal upheld this judgement but now the Supreme Court has overturned it.

The judges decided because the accident was down to bad weather the fact the owner had lied about the detail was irrelevant.

[SPOTLIGHT] Lord Clark, one of the judges on the case, said: "The critical point is that, in the case of a collateral lie… the insured is trying to obtain no more than the law regards as his entitlement, and the lie is irrelevant to the existence of that entitlement. Such a lie is immaterial to the claim."

Lord Hughes, another judge on the case, said: “The forfeiture of the entire claim is not a proportionate sanction for the teller of a collateral lie.”

Interpreting the judgement may be tricky but it suggests that someone who puts in a claim for a stolen laptop worth £1,000, but then fabricates a receipt for it, would still have a valid claim.

‘Blow for honest customers’

James Dalton, Director of General Insurance Policy at industry body the Association of British Insurers (ABI), was disappointed with the verdict.

He said: “Today’s Supreme Court decision could be a blow for honest customers. Allowing ‘collateral lies’ in the course of an insurance claim flies in the face of the work that the insurance industry and Government have been doing to crack down on the cheats and fraudsters."

Dalton also warned that the judgment would push up premiums for households and prolong the payout process.

"This decision risks pushing up the cost of insurance and prolonging the payout process for the vast majority of people who are honest customers. As the dissenting judge, Lord Mance said, allowing lies will ‘distort the claims process by the time and cost involved in unveiling the fraud and attempting to ascertain its true implications’.”

Save your lies

However, the ABI warned that the verdict doesn’t mean insurers will stop investigating dodgy claims.

Dalton added: "Lies are lies. Insurers will investigate all suspicious claims and we make no apology for doing so as it keeps premiums down for honest customers.

"The industry will study this judgment carefully. Insurers are in the business of paying all genuine claims, and have a duty to their honest customers to investigate suspected fraudulent claims.

“No insurer will decline any claim on the grounds of fraud unless they believe they have good grounds to do so. But as this judgment makes clear, inflating the value of an otherwise genuine claim still remains fraud. Anyone in any doubt if information is relevant to their claim should always play safe and tell their insurer.”

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