Quick background: Was driving with my bike attached to a roof rack, turned from one public street onto another and collided with a low-hanging bridge. Bike, bike rack, and crossbars were ripped off and irreparably damaged.
Fast forward to my attempt to file a renter’s insurance claim on my property, and it was denied by underwriting. I asked for a document describing my coverages, and they sent me a Policy Contents Broad Form, which names one of the insured perils as:
The insurer argues that the impact was from the bridge, not the vehicle. My argument was that the bridge would not have impacted anything if the vehicle had not impacted it; it certainly didn’t collide with the bike on its own volition.
The language from the packet is ambiguous and there is no further explanation. Is there a better definition of what “impact from a vehicle” means, or am I just SOL?
My suspicion is that it’s meant to cover a vehicle running into / damaging your home or property – for example, an out-of-control car driving through your front window, or crashing through your fence. In general, I think it’s meant to cover damage to your stuff when someone else’s vehicle hits it.
Between that, and the fact that they would likely argue that the damage to your bike was your fault (generally, if a driver’s vehicle is taller than the clearance on a bridge, and they hit it, the driver is seen to be at fault, for not being aware of, or not heeding, the clearance which they need to pass safely), I suspect that you’re SOL.
There is nothing in the language, as far as I can tell, that specifies whose vehicle it may be. Is there another contract that they go by instead of this policy “broad form”? Whatever their intent may have been, it certainly was not made clear in the document provided to me. That is literally the entire section out of that specific named peril. They are pretty specific about exclusions, so if they wanted to exclude my own property they would’ve (the same way they excluded the vehicle).
I had considered this, and one of the exclusions is “neglect”. However, I don’t think this was entirely a negligent scenario. The building was actually below city code (by a significant height) and probably grandfathered in. I didn’t have enough time (<3 seconds) to react from the time I made the turn to the time of the collision, and even if I did, it would have been unsafe to suddenly stop like that in that busy intersection. Anyway, if it turns out that they successfully argue I was negligent, fine, but that’s a different story than them saying that this damage was not from a vehicle impact.
If the bridge you hit had a clearance sign, your insurance company is likely to point to that as evidence of your fault (regardless of how quickly you would have had to react to it). People hit bridges with vehicles (or with things they’re carrying on top of their vehicles) with alarming frequency, and I suspect that “I hit a low bridge” isn’t going to gain much traction with them. As a driver, you’re expected to know the height of your vehicle (including with your bike atop it), and expected to not take it into situations in which you won’t clear.
If the bridge you ran into wasn’t properly signed, then you might have a case against the city (if it’s public property) or the landowner (if it’s private property).
As far as the rider in your renter’s policy, insurance companies can and will be very literal. “Impact from a vehicle,” to them, probably means exactly that. A vehicle did not hit your bike.
As for the ambiguity, it isn’t just me who seems confused about the language. Of the multiple agents at my insurer I spoke to, not one of them could give me a clear answer either. One told me it would not be covered, another said the first one was wrong and that I should file a claim and it probably would be covered, and ultimately the underwriter denied it, I asked for an explanation why it wouldn’t be considered a vehicle impact, and she never answered me. FWIW I also spoke to another insurance company and they said it absolutely would be covered under their renter’s policy, which seems to me that there’s quite a bit of leeway in this sort of scenario.
If the language is so ambiguous that even their own people can’t make sense of it, how should I?
And just to be clear, this is just about the renter’s policy. For the auto insurance portion, I was found clearly at fault there (collision with a fixed object), and I have no complaint about that. The minor damage to my car would’ve been covered under auto, but that’s irrelevant here.
The claim I am pursuing is against my renter’s, which doesn’t specifically exclude my own actions unless it constitutes a specific exclusion. “Neglect” is defined thus:
It would not have been reasonable for me to have slammed on the brakes and risk killing someone just to save my bike. Indeed, after my collision, several cars behind me had to swerve out of the way and I had to wait for a safe moment to recover my property.
Slamming on the brakes might not have been the only way to “use all reasonable means to save and preserve property at and after the time of a loss.” Your insurance company might well argue that not turning onto that street, and thus, not encountering that low bridge, would have also been a “reasonable means.”
(And, at this point, you may well feel like I’m being argumentative, and I’ll stop posting.)
No, no, it’s totally fine. I appreciate the input. It’s another ambiguous situation, as worded, and I’m totally fine with either you or the insurer arguing that angle (even if I disagree). Again, it’s not something that is very explicit in the phrasing, and not only is “reasonable” up to interpretation, “at and after” is also ambiguous. At the time of the loss, I did my best (and failed) to avoid a collision, braking a bit but not enough. Immediately thereafter, as soon as I was safe, I moved and recovered all the parts to prevent further damage.
Sure, they could say “It’s neglectful to have turned onto that street at all”. Would a “reasonable” person have avoided the situation? I asked myself that question, and it turns out that bridge height was drastically below code, it was immediately after a turn (with no way to turn back), and gaping holes in the cement indicated that several other motorists have also collided with it. It might’ve been understandable if this were a structure I was attempting to enter (say, a parking garage or a motel lobby or something). I had avoided several of those during the same trip. This was just a street turning onto another street, and I had no idea the law would allow something so low to decapitate passing motorists (and indeed it doesn’t). In truth it’s a public hazard that’s just left there because it’s been there for so long. New construction would not be allowed to be so low.
My guess is that the neglect clause is there for situations like “You noticed the pipe was leaking. Why didn’t you turn it off to prevent further damage?”, but again, whatever their intent, it’s not very specific in the language. So, I’m going to try to argue it in my favor.
In any case, they never brought it up. They just said it wasn’t a covered peril, and to my reading, it very well could be.
I’m not really sure how to argue this with them though, if there’s any sort of mediation process for disagreements over verbiage or if they just have the final say.
I ended up filing a complaint with the CA Dept of Insurance and they will look into it. I’ll report back…
It does, yes. The location is not an issue; the coverage covers “personal property owned or used by any insured while it is anywhere in the world.”
I’ve found that claiming anything other than a catastrophic loss (fire, burglary, tornado, etc.) on renter’s insurance isn’t worth the risk of significant premium increases or outright cancellation of your policy and flagging you as high-risk to all other insurers. Of course they can’t/won’t tell you beforehand what impacts a claim will have, but it won’t be in your favor. I damaged the carbon frame of my bike a few years ago while riding, and I considered filing a claim if it turned out to be irreprable (my policy covers off-premises personal property up to 10% of my total coverage limit, which is enough even for a nice carbon road bike). Fortunately the damage could be repaired, but even if it couldn’t, just about everyone suggested simply eating it.
If they’re a reputable company, they probably do have some sort of appeal process; that’s something you should ask your agent about, as they should know how this is supposed to work. If you bought the policy from a specific local agent (as opposed to buying it directly online), that’s who I think you should talk to; the agent is the person who’s supposed to act as the intermediary between the policyholder and the company.
Parenthetically, it sounds like you’re frustrated with your agent(s) telling you it should be covered, and then the underwriter disagreeing. Agents can opine on this sort of thing, but it’s not their area of expertise, especially if it’s an odd corner-case in your policy (which this seems to be). Ultimately, it’s up to that underwriter to accept or deny the claim.
My bike is half the reason I bought this insurance at all (the other half being mostly a laptop and some camping gear). If they want to jack up my rates, fine, I’ll just cancel and move onto something else shrug. After this experience, I don’t really want to do business with them anymore anyway.
As far as I can tell, the AAA doesn’t assign you a specific agent. They just choose one from a call center pool whenever you file a claim. Before I actually submitted the claim, I was trying to figure out how to actually do so (like how to divide it up between auto and renter’s) and so ended up speaking to several agents. Eventually I filed a claim, at one’s behest, and now I do have a designated person. She was the one who ignored my call from before, asking for an explanation, but she did just now call me back after I reminded her. I’ll reach out to her again tomorrow and see what she says, and I suppose simultaneously the CA Dept of Insurance will talk to them as well to see if there’s any merit to my complaint.
I mean, sure, it’s silly that their agents are salespeople who don’t understand their own product, but whatever. That part is understandable. I’m more frustrated that the policy is so unclear, both when verbally communicated and even in writing. It makes me question why I pay year after year for this product when I cannot reliably even understand what I’m actually paying for, and when I ask for clarification, they just close the case and ignore me.
Especially since another insurance company’s agent (State Farm) DID say that this WOULD be covered with their policy. I asked for proof in writing so I can see how theirs differs, and if it’s convincing, I’m going to switch over as soon as I can.
At the end of the day, this isn’t a huge deal. Just something I want clarification for for the future. If they’re going to try to weasel out of a claim this small ($1000 ish) after fifteen years with two policies, well, I don’t want them as my insurer anymore. God knows what they’ll try if I get into a really serious accident.
I had State Farm as a client for several years (I’m in advertising), and I like them a lot. Plus, they’ll assign you a local agent, who would, I suspect, be more helpful than the call-center folks you’re getting with AAA.
Good luck with that. Just for filing the claim, you’re already in an industry database called CLUE. (Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange) Go to the State Farm office across the street, and they’ll know all about the loss and why AAA denied coverage.
I agree with your logic on coverage interpretation but I worked for USAA and my coverage interpretation when faced with ambiguous policy language would lean toward resolving the issue in favor of the insured as opposed to the insurance company. Not all companies think that way.
The policy language of:
“Vehicles, meaning impact from a vehicle, but not including damage to the vehicle itself.”, seems to limit coverage in this situation to a vehicle coming into direct contact to the bike/rack. However, this interpretation appears to be limited to a casual reading of the above.
I believe the key word in the above coverage is the preposition “from” that can easily be defined, “as a result of”. In my mind, this loss was caused by a direct result of your operating a vehicle and driving it under the bridge. It is impossible to remove the vehicle from this scenario and experience the loss sustained to the bike/rack.
Unfortunately, this is my interpretation and during my early years in the business, I would review past court decisions on coverage issues and found that many similar cases revealed diametrically different decisions. It’s all about interpretation and that’s obviously one of the shortcomings of the written word. I’ll end by saying that the language is so ambiguous, I could present a reasonably coherent argument either for or against coverage.