Bag stolen while unsupervised

Hunter and Jess were on a trip of a lifetime in Europe. They were waiting in a queue to board the Eurostar train when a staff member came over and asked if they were in the right queue. Hunter left their bags in the queue and went a couple of metres away to check the tickets. As it transpired, they were in the wrong queue and when he came back to Jess, the carry-on bag containing their most valuable items had been stolen.

Hunter searched the station and reported the theft to security, but because their train was about to leave, Hunter and Jess had no option but to get on the train.

Hunter submitted a claim to the insurer for stolen items worth $7,000. The insurer declined the claim saying the bags had been left unsupervised in a public place. Hunter did not accept the decision and referred the complaint to FSCL.

 

Dispute

Hunter said that the bags were not unsupervised when the carry-on bag was stolen. At most the bags were 1-2 metres away from him, Jess, and the Eurostar staff member.

The insurer referred to an exclusion clause in the policy, for luggage and personal effects left unsupervised in a public place. The insurer considered that leaving bags in a queue of people while Hunter was a couple of metres away and not looking at the bags met the policy definition of unsupervised.

 

Review

As with all insurance complaints, the starting point is the policy. The insurer agrees to pay the cost of luggage stolen on a journey. However, all insurance policies contain exclusion clauses and it is not unusual to see an exclusion clause for items left unsupervised in a public place.

In this case the insurer defined unsupervised as leaving luggage:

  • with someone who is not named on the certificate of insurance
  • with someone who is not a travelling companion or relative
  • with someone who fails to keep the luggage under close supervision
  • where the luggage can be taken without your knowledge
  • at a distance where you cannot prevent the theft
  • and includes, forgetting, misplacing, leaving behind or walking away from your luggage.

In Hunter’s case:

  • he had left the luggage with Jess, but she failed to keep the luggage under close supervision because she did not notice the bag being stolen
  • the luggage was taken without his knowledge
  • the luggage was at a distance where he could not prevent the theft.

Given the extremely broad definition of unsupervised, we had no option but to find that the insurer was entitled to decline Hunter’s claim.

 

Resolution

Hunter and the insurer accepted my view and the complaint was closed.

 

Insights for consumers

Read your insurance policies before you travel and shop around for insurance. Although the insuring clause may give the impression that the insurer will cover stolen luggage, you need to check exclusion clause. In this particular case, it was difficult to imagine any circumstance where a stolen luggage claim would be successful under this policy, because of the very wide wording of the exclusion clause.

Travellers should also be mindful of skilled thieves when travelling overseas. In this case, the theft of Hunter and Jess’s most valuable items would have been avoided if Hunter had carried the bag with him when he went to speak to the Eurostar staff member.

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