Andrew Hooker tells a recent story of how a car theft claim went very badly wrong, and is still unresolved even after a trial clearing the customer

Andrew Hooker tells a recent story of how a car theft claim went very badly wrong, and is still unresolved even after a trial clearing the customer

By Andrew Hooker*

It is a usual week night in an otherwise unremarkable home in the Auckland area.

The occupants are asleep, when someone steals their car parked in the driveway.

The car is towed up the road, where the thieves attempt to steal the mags.

Unable to remove the mags because of the locking nuts the thieves steal the contents of the car, including an expensive mountain bike and some clothing, and torch it. 

The fire service call the police.

The attending police officer completes an incident report after inspecting the scene, observing the wheels that had been partly removed, and the equipment used to remove them and files an offence report recording it as basically just another car that had been stolen.

Nothing suspicious is recorded in the documentation.

Luckily the car is insured, and the owner lodges a claim with the insurance company. 

The insurance company appoints an investigator who interviews the owner.  The owner co-operates fully, and the investigation seems to be going well. 

It looks like the claim is going to be settled relatively soon, and so the owner goes out and buys a new car.

Then things go pear-shaped. 

The investigator calls and demands an interview, at the local police station. The vehicle owner seeks legal advice, and refuses to be interviewed at the police station, insisting on “neutral ground”. 

At the interview, the owner is accused of deliberately burning his own car. This of course is denied as are the allegations of claiming for items that were not in the car. 

Inevitably, the claim is declined, and the vehicle owner sues his insurance company in the District Court.

Not long after the proceedings have been filed, on a lazy Mother’s Day morning, there is a knock on the door.  A number of burley uniformed police officers and a senior detective are there to execute a search warrant.

They storm through the house seizing all sorts of property from clothing to other personal items, including shoes belonging to the owner’s girlfriend.

Then the senior officer advises that he is going to arrest the owner on a charge of arson.  The owner calls his lawyer. They attempt to negotiate that the owner will come to the police station for an interview the next day, and if necessary to be arrested. This is apparently relatively common practice for people who have no other convictions and are being co-operative.

The police officer refuses, arrests the owner and takes him back to the police station. 

The owner is locked in the cells overnight, humiliated, devastated and distressed. 

On the Monday the owner of the car is released after appearing in Court on strict bail terms.

He instructs a criminal barrister and a team of people defend these trumped up charges. Investigations reveal some really concerning information.

The insurance company investigator, a reasonably ineffectual woman who has since taken up an occupation as an air hostess is an ex-police officer who is married to a senior detective from the very police station from which the arresting officer came. That perhaps explains why this woman had access to the police station for the earlier interview. 

Investigations and inquiries with experienced police and ex-police confirm that the level of aggression and number of officers attending the search warrant were extremely unusual for a relatively minor offence. It seems that the insurance investigator is well-connected, and emails obtained on discovery from the police confirm a very cordial and friendly relationship between the investigator and the investigating police detective.

It seems that the relationship between the insurance company investigator and the police who carried out this raid is less than arm’s length. 

After around two years of stress, illness, humiliation and enormous legal expenses, the matter comes to a jury trial.  The trial lasts for two weeks in front of a jury of 12 men and women.

The evidence comes out. The jury retire and take less than an hour to throw the charges out emphatically. The Judge takes the unusual step of saying that she agrees with the Jury.

At last after two and a half years of hell, the owner is exonerated. 

This sounds like a plot for a John Grisham novel.  It is not.

It is a true story of the high handed way in which an insurance company treated its customer.

Insurance companies routinely employ ex-police officers to carry out their investigations. These police officers have friends or family in the police force and the insurance company gets the benefit of these relationships. 

This is one story.  There are many more.  Every day in New Zealand, customers of insurance companies are investigated, and insurance companies spend huge money putting together cases to justify their decisions.

In this case, the insurance company customer has spent almost all of his personal money, sold assets and raised finance to fund the defence of this prosecution instigated by the insurance company.

Of course the insurance company has got this for free, because the New Zealand tax payer funded this prosecution. 

Now the insurance company will no doubt continue to defend the civil proceedings anyway. 

The fact that its customer received an emphatic not guilty after a two week jury trial does not automatically mean that the insurance company must pay.

The insurance companies will trot out the usual “the onus of proof in a civil case is lower than a criminal case” argument, and put its customer through yet another trial.

All this because an investigator carried out a shoddy investigation and the insurance company made a complaint to the police station where the investigator’s husband worked as a detective.

They say that you can’t beat City Hall. Well how do you beat an insurance company prepared to throw such resources, contacts and influence at a comparatively under-resourced customer? 

Most people just throw in the towel. This customer did not and will not.

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*Andrew Hooker practices as a specialist insurance lawyer in Albany on Auckland's North Shore. He is also director of Claims Information Specialists Ltd, an insurance information website.

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5 Comments

Worst. Nightmare, Ever. Do wonder if the criminal(s) in this case would have suffered this much for this long if they'd been caught?

The Jury/Judge should have awarded massive damages to the poor insured in this case.

What the hell; did this happen in Corruption free NZ? The judge should absolutely be able to award a large sum against the insurance co . NZ is getting right royally rogered by insurance companies with this agreed value thing and now they are allowed to do this?

Unfortunately this type of issue is all far to common in NZ. 
Very few people have the time and/or resources to take further action on such issues and this is relied upon by those abusing the system.
 
NZ is far from free on the corruption scale. The Police role in this particular issue should be investigated.
Any person or organisation who uses any Government service in this manner should be charged with corruption and other related charges. Any person working in the Government services should also be charged with corruption and any other applicable charges.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Until company executives can be held personally liable for the crimes their companies commit, corruption like this will increase. 
How often do we hear of companies being convicted and fined for criminal offences where the penalty is less than the benefit from the crime? And the executives laugh all the way to the bank with their inflated salaries and bonuses.