Luggage stolen from a locked car

Nancy and her family were driving through America, looking forward to spending a day shopping at a large mall. They had checked out of their hotel, so had all their luggage with them.

Nancy parked near the entrance to the mall, reassured that the mall carpark was patrolled by security guards. Unfortunately, the family could not fit their carry-on luggage into the car boot, so placed the bags in the back footwell, covered with beach towels. Partway through the day Nancy and the family came back to the car and put their shopping on the back seat. When they came back at the end of the day, the car had been broken into and both carry-on bags, containing $15,000 worth of clothing, jewellery, and electronic goods, as well as a few of the items left on the back seat, had been stolen.

Nancy made an insurance claim, but her insurer declined the claim saying she had left items in view in a locked vehicle.

 

Dispute

Nancy said the carry-on bags were not in view. She had put beach towels over them. Although they had left shopping on the back seat, the shopping was in generic, reusable, shopping bags and, again, not in view.

The insurer maintained that the shopping was left in view, attracting attention, allowing it to decline the claim under a condition in the policy, obliging Nancy to not leave items in view in a vehicle.

 

Review

As a condition of the policy, Nancy had agreed that she would take reasonable care of her items and not leave items:

  • unattended in a public place
  • in an unlocked vehicle
  • in view in a locked vehicle
  • overnight in a vehicle unless the vehicle was locked and in a locked, private, garage.

We agreed that by parking the car in a carpark patrolled by security guards, near the entrance to the mall, where you would expect there to be plenty of people around to deter thieves, Nancy had taken reasonable care of her luggage.

Nancy had only placed the carry-on luggage in the footwell, covered by beach towels, because it would not fit in the boot. It was difficult to say whether the carry-on luggage was in view, but we were prepared to accept that because it was hidden beneath towels, in the footwell of the car, the carry-on luggage was not able to be easily seen. If no further shopping bags had been placed in the car, we may have given Nancy the benefit of the doubt that the carry-on luggage was not “in view” and she would have been covered for the theft of the carry-on luggage.

Unfortunately, other shopping was placed on the back seat of the car during the day. Even if it was stored in unidentifiable, reusable bags, it was ‘in view’. The visibility of these bags attracted the thieves’ attention and led directly to the break-in and loss.

 

Resolution

We were sympathetic towards Nancy, because she had been the victim of theft, but we explained that the insurer was only liable to compensate her for loss that falls within the policy wording. As the shopping bags were left in view, we considered the insurer was entitled to decline the claim.

 

Insights for consumers

If you are travelling overseas it is often a condition of insurance that you take reasonable care of your luggage, with a specific instructions that luggage is not to be left ‘in view’ in a locked vehicle. If at all possible, you should store your luggage out of sight in a locked luggage compartment. If this is not possible, it is best to leave your luggage with the hotel or accommodation provider in a locked room. Check your policy wording for guidance as to what your insurer will consider an acceptable means for transporting and storing luggage.

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