Case study: A rats tale

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Claims for vermin damage aren’t uncommon.

Probably the most extreme example of vermin damage Compass has ever seen occurred a few years ago when some rats invaded a holiday caravan.

The owners were away from their happy place for just three weeks, but when they returned, they found that rats had built a number of nests and caused an unbelievable amount of damage.

Their caravan was littered with excrement and urine. The rats had not only chewed through soft furnishings (including bedding, curtains, and floor coverings), but had gnawed through hard furnishings and fittings too – including cupboards, doors, drawers, and wall panels.

There were indications too that insulation – possibly from walls and ceilings – had been used to make nests. All in all, it was a scene of total devastation.

The owners immediately contacted Compass and were reassured that the damage would be covered under their Compass policy. The unit had to be sterilised before it was safe for someone to go in and assess the damage. Kitted out in specialist safety gear, a Compass claims consultant completed a full inspection.

He found the damage to be so significant that the only way to remedy the situation would be to strip out the whole interior of the caravan. This would include the removal and replacement of kitchen units, fitted lounge, dining and bedroom furniture, bathroom fittings, doors and door surrounds, all floor coverings and soft furniture.

He also had grave concerns about the state of the concealed parts of the structure. For example, he could not be sure whether the electricity cables within the wall and ceiling cavities had been chewed. To prove this either way, it would be necessary for wall and ceiling panels to be removed. Any work carried out within the structure would need to be undertaken in environmentally controlled conditions to protect people and avoid the risk of contamination and potential health hazards.

Having considered the extent and nature of the damage, the conclusion was that the costs in respect of further investigative works and reinstatement would prove prohibitive. It was decided that the caravan should be considered as beyond economical repair and recorded as a total loss. As the owners were insured on a New for Old basis, they could at least rest assured that their holiday caravan would be replaced.

But that was just one aspect of settling the claim. The model of caravan was no longer in production, so the customer’s made-to-measure decking instantly became redundant. This had to be replaced too.

Equally, it had to be assumed that all the contents within the unit had been contaminated, which meant everything had to be disposed of. The customer submitted a claim for over £2,500 for items including bedding, kitchen utensils, white goods, two TVs, furniture, and clothing. We hit a snag at this point, as the customers did not have £2,500 of contents cover. This meant that they were underinsured.

The customers had not deliberately under-insured. Rather, as is too often the case, they had never sat down and calculated the value of the items in their caravan. It was the smaller items which added up: a pair of designer boots – £200, a handbag – £50, placemats, glassware, lamps, an electric blanket and children’s games. These are all things that very easily make their way into a much-loved holiday home over time, but often don’t make their way into a Contents Sums Insured calculation.

In the end, the claims payment made to the owner in respect of their contents was around half of what they claimed for. Nevertheless, with a replacement unit, replacement decking and some money towards replacement contents, the customers were happy.

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