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Man who left 'hidden' key in car loses theft claim dispute

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A man who left his key in his car at the time it was stolen has lost his appeal to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) to have his insurance claim paid.

The complainant parked in his driveway on April 28 last year, and found the vehicle missing the next morning.

He called police and his insurer Auto and General, saying the car had two keys, one he carried on him and another in a hidden compartment beneath the driver’s seat.

Auto and General says its policy informs clients that theft claims can be denied if the insured has not taken precautions to prevent theft, including removing all keys from the car when left unattended.

The complainant initially said the key was left in the car but that it was disguised.

“The key was hidden. I’d like to stress that,” the complainant said.

On June 1 Auto and General informed the man that his claim was being denied because he had left the key inside the car at the time of the theft.

The complainant then said in fact the key had been hung in the garage by his wife.

The man said that when he first reported the crime, he had thought the key was still in the hidden compartment in the car. However, after speaking to his wife he had learned that she moved it to the garage.

The man claimed that the thief broke into the garage and took the key from the garage door as well as a power drill.

He said the garage door opener that is normally kept inside the car was left on the driveway and allowed the thief to access the garage.

A police report stated that there was no evidence that the thief had entered the garage and that the man had not mentioned signs of entrance until after his claim was denied.

On June 16, the police arrested a woman for the theft. She said when she approached the car, its interior lights had been on, and the door had been unlocked with the key in the ignition.

She said the drill was in the car at the time of the theft and that the car was stolen again from her the following day.

The claimant said the accused thief’s account was filled with inconsistencies but, in their decision, AFCA said that they had not given much weight to her claims and focused on the discrepancies in the claimant’s reports.

AFCA said in determining whether the car had been left unattended it employs the "Starfire" test that classifies a car as ‘attended’ if a person is able to observe any interferences and has taken precautions to prevent any interferences with their vehicle.

The test originates from a 1962 precedent set in the case Starfire Diamond Rings v Angel and is generally used by courts when determining if a car is defined as attended or unattended.

Assessing all the evidence provided, AFCA said that the car had been left unattended and the insurer was entitled to deny the claim.

Click here to read the full ruling.