x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Car insurance has many hidden traps for the unwary

Motorists should pay close attention to whether their insurance covers blood money, experts say.

DUBAI // Motorists must take care to ensure the extras they add to their car insurance are needed, or whether they remain legally vulnerable despite paying more, experts say.

Third-party cover is mandatory and insurance companies must pay blood money - a payment to the family of someone killed - if there is a fatal crash.

But the legally mandated minimum insurance does not cover the driver's family members if they are in the car that caused the accident.

"You must choose what is important rather than the frills you can do without," says K Kumar, the head of the Indian Community Welfare Committee.

"A worker has a driving licence; beyond that he knows little about policy details because he is not properly educated. But a father must find out if his family has medical cover in case he causes an accident and his family is injured."

Even people with more comprehensive insurance often serve time in jail until the blood money claims are sorted out, Mr Kumar says.

"People don't check if the third party cover extends to their family members who may also be in the car during an accident," he says. "Instead, they pay a premium for other enhanced coverage like authorised agency repairs and damage to personal possessions."

Mr Kumar's group has raised funds to free more than 45 workers in the past 11 years who served more than their sentence in fatal accident cases because they could not pay the Dh200,000 in blood money for their release.

"An accident can happen any time. Even if a tyre burst, the driver's personal injuries will not be covered," says Vinod Varma, a lawyer who has handled several blood money cases.

"So passengers and drivers must have more comprehensive coverage. There is usually ignorance about the policy."

If the insured driver has been drinking, the law would have been broken and the policy will not cover his medical treatment. But it is required to compensate victims of the accident.

"Some legal heirs of victims don't know that even if the driver has consumed alcohol, they still are obligated to get the compensation diyaa money," says Mr Varma.

"The insurance company can retrieve this amount from the insured person but the company is obligated to pay the compensation. Many foreign insurance companies pay the diyaa money without any hassle; others wait for a judgment."

The legal heirs of the victim must file a request and the court will direct the insurance company to pay blood money and other legitimate claims.

But the insurance company can still file a civil case to recover that amount from the insured.

Some companies' products cover more than the minimum as a matter of policy.

"We greatly extend the minimum legal cover under our standard comprehensive and third-party products," says Karl Gray, the Middle East director of personal lines with Royal and Sun Alliance Insurance.

But Mr Gray says that in general, motorists looking for insurance do not consider all of the intricacies of the law before buying.

"Unfortunately, many people do not read the policy wording," he says. "They may not be aware that the minimum third-party liability cover excludes compensation payment to family members whilst travelling as passengers in the vehicle.

"At the very least, it's important to ask for a summary of the product cover when buying insurance."

rtalwar@thenational.ae