Fully comprehensive motor insurance does not always cover injury to the holder. Anat Arkin reports on one man's case
After losing part of his right leg in a road accident last December, 41-year-old chef and catering lecturer Ken Hawksworth thought he was entitled to compensation for his injury.
So, while still recovering, he was shocked to discover that his motorcycle insurance policy, though fully comprehensive, did not cover him for personal injury. If he had injured someone else they could have claimed, but there was no cover for the policy-holder.
He received a payout only for the damage to his motorcycle and even that did not cover the full cost of the bike, which was just five weeks old when he was involved in a collision with a car."I always thought fully comprehensive meant fully comprehensive, but obviously it doesn't," said Mr Hawksworth, who admits he had not read the small print in his Norwich Union policy.
Even if he had ploughed through the legal jargon, he might not have been any the wiser. The policy does not mention personal injury to the policy-holder - even in the long list of exceptions to the insurance company's liability.
A Norwich Union spokesman said the policy does not specifically exclude personal injury for the same reason that it does not exclude damage to the policy-holder's house: it is a motorcycle policy and not a personal accident or household policy.
"If Mr Hawksworth had been looking for personal accident cover his broker would have been able to sell him a personal accident policy," the spokesman said.
Although Mr Hawksworth had not read the small print on the policy, he had paid Pounds 12 on top of his premium for legal expenses insurance. With this form of private legal aid, he is now trying to recover damages for the losses not covered by his Norwich Union policy.
According to Brett Morris, a senior partner in the Cheltenham law firm Morris Orman Hearie, which is handling Mr Hawksworth's case, the Norwich Union's motorcycle policy is pretty standard. A comprehensive policy does not cover injury to the individual, though some policies do provide very limited cover for medical expenses.
"Essentially, it's comprehensive in respect of the vehicle, not the person, " he said. "It's an unfortunate situation that if you are responsible for the accident you have no recourse. But if you are not responsible, then you do have recourse through the law to pursue a claim that will theoretically compensate you for your losses."
Mr Hawksworth is trying to prove that he was not responsible for the collision. But although the accident took place in a busy London street in the early evening rush hour, no witnesses have yet come forward to back his claim that the driver of the other vehicle was to blame.
This driver, a young woman driving her father's Volvo, was not insured. But if Mr Hawksworth does manage to prove that she was negligent, he should be able to recover damages through the Motor Insurance Bureau, the body which handles claims involving uninsured motorists.
These damages would probably be higher than the benefits payable under a personal accident insurance policy. Under the Norwich Union's personal accident policy, for instance, an annual premium of Pounds 42.64 would buy a teacher of Mr Hawksworth's age up to Pounds 25,000 worth of cover for the loss of a leg or use of a leg. When a court awards damages in a negligence case, on the other hand, it is not bound by a fixed figure but takes into account the claimant's pain, suffering and "loss of amenity" as well as any financial losses resulting from the accident.
Calculating the extent of Mr Hawksworth's suffering is likely to be difficult because five years ago he was involved in another accident which almost led to his left leg being amputated. In that case the other driver admitted responsibility and negotiations with his insurance company are still dragging on. But with Mr Hawksworth's right leg amputated above the knee, his weakened left leg is taking more strain than before and causing him a lot of pain.
While waiting to hear what compensation he will receive for this earlier injury and whether he can recover anything at all for his recent injury, Mr Hawksworth is trying to rebuild his life. His employer is the Hotel and Catering Training Company, part of the new hospitality training foundation which last autumn seconded him to the Butlers Wharf Chefs' School at Tower Bridge where he is a National Vocational Qualification assessor. The school has a 42-seat restaurant called The Apprentice.
The HCTC paid him his full salary throughout the four months he spent recovering from the accident and, out of the blue, sent a one-year salary cheque from their own insurance scheme which protects employees against accident. "The company has been brilliant," he says.
He went back to work at Easter but currently does only one or two days a week at the school, where these days he concentrates on the theory rather than the practice of food preparation. He works from home for the rest of the week and hopes that eventually he will be training students in the kitchen again.
"It's changed my life dramatically," he said. "The worst thing is that I've got two very young boys and there will be no more running or going for long walks with them."
Yet in spite of everything, he manages to sound remarkably cheerful: "I'm a firm believer that what will be will be. I'm not bitter about what's happened. It's happened and I've got to live with it."