Insurance companies are out to rip us off. It’s what they do. Any successful business is one that takes in as much as possible and pays out as little as possible. It’s in an insurance company’s interests to charge high premiums and pay out as few claims as it can.

But it’s worth bearing in mind that there’s a balance of costs. Refusing to pay out a claim can become more expensive than settling if, like a righteous terrier, you refuse to let go. Ours is a small story, but one worth hearing.

We live in the country and a farmer’s livestock caused $800 worth of damage to our car. The farmer’s insurance company refused to pay. It claimed we knowingly parked on a stock route. Stock does travel along it every day, but it’s a public road. It also suggested we should have parked in our carport, and therefore needed to accept liability.

We wrote back, polite though astounded and enraged, telling it that its information was wrong, we can choose to park on a public road, and even its insured agreed it would cover the damage. We wanted full settlement.

The company wrote back: “It was your choice not to use your carport” and we couldn’t claim to be unaware of stock movement. Yet it offered a “without prejudice” settlement of 50%.

We wrote back, still angry, but slightly gleeful. From zero to 50%. Like a boxer moving in, we had ’em on the ropes, simply by contesting. “Sure we chose not to use the carport,” we said. “We can park on a public road any time we please. Yes, we knew stock moved there, and we, like the farmer, assumed insurance would cover any damage.” That is, after all, what insurance is for.

The company eventually responded, and our one-two punch had hit home. “Whilst we agree that it is the right of everyone to use a public road,” it said, “we cannot ignore that you did have another option and were aware of the traversing of stock.”

Yet it offered “on a strictly without prejudice and without admission of liability basis”, 75% of the claim.

Dogged determination, careful research and months of waiting had got us from zero, to 50%, to 75%. We moved in for the kill. It was clear now we were being bullied. The company was doing business as usual — taking the insurance premiums and paying out as little as possible, dragging it out as long as possible. It kept making new offers, hoping we’d give up. But it was principle. It was fury in the form of small claims. It was personal.

My wife wrote the literary equivalent of a suplex. It said things such as “don’t take me for a fool”, “seeking legal advice” and the headlock of words, “talking to friends in the media”.

They wrote back: “in an effort to settle the matter” it finally offered 100%. KO! It noted that “this offer does not set any precedent … strictly without prejudice and without any admission of liability.” Which are just weasel words saying: “Should you claim again, we’ll make you leap through the same hoops, because that’s our business.”

And you know what? We’re ready to jump. Our claim was valid. Its position was that of a profit-making business. While ours might only have been a small claim, it was big in principle. And we won. You can too. If an insurance company refuses you on some spurious grounds, dig your heels in, bare your teeth and fight. It’s worth it.

Peter Fray

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