Consumers beware!
When your car gets stolen
Pushpa Girimaji

About six months ago, my car got stolen. When I got into the car and started it, I suddenly realised that I had left my driving license behind. I ran into the house, picked up the card and came back, within three minutes. By then, the car was gone. The insurance company has repudiated my claim saying I was negligent in leaving the key in the car. Can I file a complaint before the consumer court for the insured amount and are there chances of winning the case?

I will quote two recent decisions of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission. In both cases, the driver stopped the car on the roadside, left the key in the ignition slot and went to answer the call of nature. When he returned, the car was gone. In both the cases, the insurance company repudiated the claim on the ground that there was violation of the conditions of the policy which cast an obligation on the insured to take due and reasonable care to protect the insured vehicle from any loss or damage. However, in New India Assurance Company vs Ajit Kumar (RP no 1896 of 2008, decided on 4-9-2013), the apex consumer court held the repudiation justified and said that the complainant had left the car on the roadside late in the night, unattended and unlocked, thereby violating the policy condition. Saying that he had to take responsibility for this negligence, the Commission set aside the orders of the lower consumer courts holding the repudiation to be unjustified. Of course, the fact that the complainant had given different versions in his complaint to the police and later to the insurance company investigator, also had a bearing on the court order. In his complaint to the police, he had said that he had taken the keys with him while going to urinate by the roadside, while his briefcase containing the duplicate key was in the unlocked car. In another version, he had said that the car had been snatched from him at gunpoint by some unknown persons and he only had the duplicate key.

In Sukhwinder Singh vs Cholamandalam MS General Insurance Company (RP No 375 of 2013, decided on 30-8-2013), the apex consumer court held the repudiation to be unjustified , set aside the order of the State Commission upholding the decision of the insurance company and directed the insurer to pay. While doing so, it pointed out that the driver parked the vehicle on the roadside and went to ease himself, forgetting to remove the keys from the ignition. This lapse on the part of the driver cannot be treated as wilful breach of condition number five on the part of the driver. If, in his hurry to answer the call of nature, the driver forgot to take the key with him, he cannot be said to have committed wilful breach of the terms of the policy. The Commission also held that "leaving the keys in the ignition of the car on all occasions cannot be termed as so serious a breach as to disentitle the insured from seeking claim under the insurance policy. Whether or not there is breach depends upon the facts of the case." Quote this case in your complaint. Also ensure that facts are accurate.