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Insurer loses case of the burned-out Toyota

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Suncorp must pay a motor insurance customer $11,100 after the insurer was found liable for the cost of a burned Toyota RAV4 that was comprehensively insured.

The customer lodged a claim in December 2017 after the vehicle was destroyed by fire. Suncorp denied the claim, saying the damage was not caused by an incident the complainant “did not intend or expect to happen”, and was therefore not insured.

The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) ruled in favour of the claimant.

“I am satisfied the information provided by the complainant is sufficient to establish, on the balance of probabilities … that the vehicle was stolen by a person or persons unknown and without her knowledge and consent,” AFCA said.

While a forensic report was inconclusive and “does raise issues with the circumstances of the theft, it leaves open the possibility of the vehicle being stolen,” the verdict reads.

“In the circumstances I am satisfied the complainant has established a valid claim within the terms of the policy.”

The customer said she left her 2005 vehicle after it broke down and walked home with her young daughter, having made sure it was locked properly. Some hours later police arrived at her house and told her the car had been destroyed by fire.

A Queensland crime report said the vehicle had been driven onto a fire trail and set alight by unknown persons. The fire had been put out by the time the police arrived.

The Suncorp policy provided cover for accidental loss or damage caused by an insured incident, including fire.

A forensic report obtained by Suncorp showed the driver and front passenger door powered window regulators were down, indicating the windows were open at the time of the fire. It also showed the driver’s seat to be in a position that would suit a tall person. The complainant is 162cm tall and it appeared unlikely the complainant was the last person to drive the vehicle.

“I accept the report raises questions as to how the vehicle could have been stolen without a correctly coded key,” the AFCA ruling says. “It does not establish that the incident was intended or expected by the complainant.”

There was no suggestion the complainant was in financial difficulty or that the vehicle had been offered for sale. The claimant said she had planned to give the vehicle to her 17-year-old son as his first vehicle.