Insurance claims - it's a funny business
01 Feb 2010
A quick search of the internet reveals any number of collections of amusing insurance claims, indeed I have just read a few for research purposes and had to try very hard not to laugh out loud and disturb the researcher currently working in my office.
These collections almost always relate to motor claims and would seem to be a phenomenon ideally suited to the modern world of forwarded e-mail jokes and joke web pages.
It transpires though, that the writing of amusing claims and their subsequent collection by the staff of insurance companies goes back at least as far as 1895 when the Norwich Union staff magazine included the following extract from a claim form sent in to their Glasgow office
“Claim £1 for loss of eyebrows and portion of head of hair belonging to son John – aged 19.”
During the course of my work cataloguing the archive I have built up my own collection of these humorous claims, which seem to have reached the peak of their popularity in the 1950s and while they might not cause you to laugh out loud they may at least bring a smile to your face and prove once again that there is nothing new in the world.
As with the current crop of “funny” claims many of those which found their way into the pages of the staff magazines of over fifty years ago related to claims made against motor policies. To get us started here is one of the now familiar “car meets animal” claims in an extract from a claim form sent in to one of the Eastern branches of the North British and Mercantile group of companies in 1955.
“Two wild boars suddenly dashed across the road and about two yards in front of the vehicle. To avoid running into them, the driver plunged into the ravine and stopped abruptly only when dashed against an ant hill.”
Motor accidents with exotic animals in far flung places were a recurring theme with the staff of General Accident whose house journal of 1940 recounted that the Western Australia branch had paid out £150 over a car accident caused by a driver swerving into a tree to avoid a Kangaroo.
The same decade their branch in the Congo reported a claim for damage to the interior of a car caused when a lion climbed into a stationary vehicle and objected to the motion when it started up again.
Still another of the company’s policy holders in Africa reported a collision with a hippopotamus and in answer to a question about the damage to his car wrote that it was “trifling compared with that sustained by the third party to judge from the noise it made.”
That encounters with unusual animals were by no means limited to exotic locations is evident from the following comments on a claim for an accident closer to home which appeared in the staff magazine for the same company in 1934.
“The van was stationary at the side of the road with the driver in the seat, waiting for a circus to pass by. Greatly to his consternation one of the elephants put its trunk through the window, discovered the driver’s lunch and ate this, and then finished it off with a loaf of bread.
"Unfortunately an elephant is a tight fit in a Morris Minor Van, and the result was a broken Triplex window panel. Mr S – wrote to the owner of the elephant to hold him responsible for the beast’s antics, and the enclosed letter has been received. He did not complete a claim form as most of the questions don’t seem to fit, but he is quite sure that the elephant did not sound his horn.”
The staff were similarly amused in 1953 by a claim for dents in an Armstrong Siddeley motor which was butted by a ram who though his reflection it its polished side was a rival, but they did not limit themselves only to situations involving animals and space was found in the magazine for claims such as this put in to the company in 1957.
“At 11.20pm I was reversing from my parking place. The weather was foggy with a heavy mist. A man tried to direct me calling back, back, and so forth. Too late he called out Stop and vanished.”
It was General Accident again who reported this quote from a claimant in 1956 “I would like to point out that this incident occurred not by negligence on my part but by a misjudgement of time and space.” and this “Q for what purpose was the car being used at the time of the accident? A for pleasure, attending mother-in-law’s funeral.”
My favourite motor claim from General Accident is this extract from a claim form of 1954.
“This car was hired after my own…was being repaired. Unfortunately the front seat was fixed and owing to the abnormal size of my tummy I was unable to sit without the steering column being firmly wedged into the latter. In fact I had to pull my stomach in whenever I made a turn of any consequence.
"Coming up a steep hill… on rounding a corner I met a nasty little boy trying to break his neck speeding downhill on a bicycle. I was forced to pull into the side suddenly, and as my tummy muscles failed to react the steering column did likewise and I struck a heap of roadside clearings.”
Moving away from motor claims to those tendered against household insurance we find insurance clerks of yesteryear finding humour in the wording of some of the completed claim forms they received as this extract reported by North British & Mercantile in 1948.
“On Saturday morning a part of my sitting-room ceiling fell in … it has broken the one arm completely off the armchair; carpet is saturated with water, sand, plaster etc, the one side will rot, I am sure with it all.
"The curtain was knocked down its casement and it has cracked all the threads where it hit it. I have lost two husbands, so these are not easy to replace. I value the carpet £0s, chair 30s and curtain 2s 6d."
The Northern Assurance Bristol branch received a claim form in 1953 as follows “soot creaping (sic) under hearth and setting fire to Flooring and Joyce under floor. Articles damaged: Flooring and Joyce. Amount claimed £12.”
Leaving aside the damage done to the unfortunate Joyce we come to a (presumably) tongue-in-cheek claim sent in to North British & Mercantile again in 1948.
“I beg to tender a claim under our burglary policy. A burglar, in the shape of a great horrid tomcat, entered our house by the window…stole from the cage a canary (worth £1), quickly disappeared out of the window, and entirely demolished the poor bird in the coal cellar…”
And finally I have two examples of amusing fire claims, the first a letter sent to offices of the North British & Mercantile group of companies in 1954.
“My mother respectfully asks me to write and intimate that she intends to proceed with a claim under her policy with your esteemed company. She has been insured with your company for about 50 years and as this is her first claim she is rather ignorant of how she should proceed.
"A friend has told her that if she exhibits the articles involved in the fire to our Minister, he will issue a certificate. Unfortunately modesty prohibits such an action as the articles are of an intimate character.
"Both mother and I would much prefer it if you would send one of your ladies on your staff (if you have ladies on your staff) to look at the articles if it is essential that you should see them. Please excuse our lack of knowledge of business methods as my Mother is aged and I am hardly as young as I was. PS they fell off the clothes-horse and into the fire.”
Sticking with the burnt underwear theme the Norwich Union magazine of Christmas 1941 reported the following unusual claim.
“It appears that a 'young hopeful', possibly expecting an invasion, had equipped himself with a supply of guncaps, which he was carrying in his trouser pockets when another boy threw a stone at him. Hitting this pocket, the impact was sufficient to ignite the guncaps with disastrous results to the lad’s nether garments.”