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Surfer who put car keys in towbar safe loses claim dispute

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A surfer who left his car keys in a “Surf Lock” safe attached to his towbar, then entered a pin code and hit the waves, has lost a $12,000 claim dispute after the Volvo wagon was missing from the beach carpark on his return.

The stolen vehicle was recovered by police around two weeks later. The man sought $12,202 for external and internal damages, hire car costs and personal effects.

The claim was denied by Auto & General Services, part of the BHL Group, which said he failed to comply with a policy condition to remove all keys from within, on, or in the immediate vicinity of the vehicle while unattended.

The surfer said he was not clearly informed about changes to his conditions of cover at renewal but the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) said the insurer had clearly informed him of updated policy terms.

AFCA ruled the Policy Disclosure Statement (PDS) was clear and unambiguous.

“The onus rested with the complainant to read the new PDS sent by the insurer and ensure it was appropriate for his needs,” AFCA said. “The insurer clearly informed the complainant of the updated policy terms and did not mislead the complainant.”

The comprehensive car insurance policy was renewed in April last year for a second term. It was sent to the surfer a month earlier under a cover letter which directed him to read both parts of the new PDS to “ensure the cover still meets your insurance needs”.

Eight months later, on the day of the theft, the car key was sealed in an aluminium satchel and enclosed in a lock key safe, secured by a pin code. The vehicle was locked and security devices were activated.

After the Volvo was recovered, the surfer’s keys were still registered to the immobiliser and operating. A forensic locksmith said this indicated there had been no attempt to program any new keys.

The locksmith said it may have been possible to unlock the vehicle to gain entry while the key was enclosed in the Surf Lock attached to the tow bar and in close proximity to the rear cargo door. The surfer accepted these conclusions.

“There is a clear causal link between the act of leaving keys within, on, or in the immediate vicinity of the vehicle and that of the vehicle being stolen,” AFCA said.

“Whilst the complainant took steps to lock the vehicle, the keys were still attached to the vehicle by being in the key safe on the towbar when he went surfing. On this basis, the insurer is entitled to decline the complainant’s claim as he failed to comply with the full conditions of cover under the policy.”

See the full ruling here.