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Dissatisfied with repairs

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What recourse do I have if I am unsatisfied with the repairs done to my vehicle?

Your insurer’s obligations in the event of a loss:

A common cause of unhappiness on the part of an insured car owner is unsatisfactory repairs to the vehicle after an accident. The complaint is either that the repair work done is defective or that the vehicle has not been restored to its pre-accident condition, or a combination of both.

In order to determine whether you have a valid complaint against the Insurer under the policy, you must first understand the insurer’s rights with regards to repairs. Most comprehensive policies provide that the Insurer has a choice - it can either pay your loss or damage, i.e. the reasonable costs of repair, or at it’s expense reinstate the vehicle to its pre-accident condition.

If the insurer elects to pay your loss, then usually the legal position is that you may appoint the repairer and that you are responsible to pay the repair costs. You also have legal rights against the repairer, in terms of the Consumer Protection Act, if he does not do the job properly. Your Insurer has no part in the dispute, and its obligation is simply to pay you what it costs to repair the car. In practice the insurer sometimes pays the repairer, but the insurer has no right (unless the policy says otherwise) to do this without your permission.

If the insurer decides to reinstate, the legal position is different. The Insurer may and usually does nominate the repairer, and consequently the Insurer, and not you, must pay the bill and approve the work.

If you are not satisfied that the vehicle has been properly "reinstated" then your remedy is against the Insurer, and if the Insurer will not get it done properly, the Insured may get it done himself and claim the cost from the Insurer.

Some policies, however, contain provisions that seem to "mix up" the two choices, for example, that the Insurer may nominate a repairer even where it does not choose to reinstate, or that the Insured is always primarily liable for the repairer’s costs. It needs a careful look at the policy and the facts, therefore, to determine which of the two routes the Insurer has adopted.

Either way, you will need independent and expert opinion to show that the repairs are defective, or that there has not been proper reinstatement. A competent check and report by an organisation like the Automobile Association could be useful, or a qualified opinion by your usual servicing garage that the condition is not what it used to be or ought to be.

Discharge form:

Beware of the signature of the "discharge" form which is normally signed when you take delivery of the vehicle. There is no legal obligation on you to sign a form which discharges the Insurer or the repairer from all liability before you have been given any real opportunity to check the quality of the repairs. If they won't hand the car over without it, put a big "UNDER PROTEST" next to your signature, which will support an argument later that you only signed because they refused to return your property unless you did.

Payment of Excess:

Although it is often practically speaking a sensible thing to do, there is no legal obligation on you to pay your "excess" to the repairer. If the Insurer is reinstating, then your obligation is to pay your Insurer the excess when it has complied with its obligation to reinstate, and if it is paying out your loss, then it is entitled to deduct the excess from that payment. Either way, legally speaking, the repairer has nothing to do with your excess. Only pay the excess to the repairer if you are satisfied that the Insurer has appointed the repairer as its agent to receive the payment on its behalf.

Summary:

  1. Find out if your Insurer is paying you your loss or reinstating the vehicle.
  2. If it is paying your loss (less excesses) you deal with the repairs and the repairer. Your loss is usually the fair and reasonable cost of repair.
  3. If it is reinstating, the repairers are the Insurers’ agents and should look to Insurers for payment; you are entitled to the repaired vehicle in as good a state as it was prior to the accident, and you are obliged to pay any excess to the Insurer.
  4. Read your policy conditions to check whether there is anything which affects the basic positions set out above.
  5. If you are satisfied that you can prove that what the Insurer is offering you in money does not represent your proper loss, less the excess, or that the vehicle has not been properly restored, then object, and if you cannot achieve satisfaction, approach the Ombudsman if you want mediation, or your Attorney for advice as to whether you should assert your rights in a Court of Law.