Do you need an e-pass to claim motor insurance in COVID-19 lockdown?

Unconfirmed reports in the motor insurance industry talk about incidents where insurance companies have been rejecting motor accident claims, in these pandemic times, for want of an e-pass. This confusion arose because an e-pass is mandated if you wish to travel from one state to another and at times, even within a state.

Moneycontrol checked with few insurance companies if this were true, and they all denied asking for an e-pass. But that doesn’t absolve you of an honest disclosure. The question being; why had you stepped out of your house in this lockdown? “We haven’t been asking for any e-pass, that is for the Government and the Police to check. When an accident happens, as an insurer, we are putting utmost faith in the insured and trusting their words that they had to step out for some necessity or essential services. We do our due diligence and we are honouring the claims,” says Parthanil Ghosh, President – Motor Business at HDFC ERGO General Insurance.

Singling out e-pass as a sole reason for claim rejection hasn’t been adopted by major insurers. AV Padmanabha, Head – Motor OD Claims, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance, “Government has mandated car owners to take permission before driving either inter-district or within the state. The customer has to describe the circumstance, during which the accident took place. As of now we have not repudiated any such claim due to unavailability of e-pass.”

However, he adds that to verify the details, on a case to case basis, the policyholder maybe required to submit evidences to co-relate the details, but e-pass is not a mandatory document.

“But one should submit the claim instead of assuming that the claim would be rejected in the absence of a valid e-pass. Insurers consider each case separately and one cannot demarcate a general trend in claims. The permissible claim limit would also depend on the insurance company one has chosen. While some insurer would allow a relaxation for e-pass, others would approve the claim,” suggests Yashodhan Karani owns insurance advisory

Flouting norms

However, insurers warn that if claims, where traffic laws have been flouted, would not be entertained. Instead, they warn, action may also be taken for negligence. “If it is proved that the driver was speeding up unnecessarily (due to empty roads during lockdown), driving on the wrong side, violating traffic signals, then any contravention of law will allow that the claims should not be honoured whether it is pre- or post-pandemic,” says Ghosh.

One should always be guided by the local regulation about the containment zone and the condition of the vehicle. In certain pockets, the police has confiscated vehicles of those roaming around the town without a reason. These were returned after some time. Damage to such vehicles during the confiscation period would not be payable, say insurers.

What happens if your vehicle hasn’t been maintained during the lockdown phase and you ply on the roads without the basic checks on crucial brakes. “There is a possibility that the brake is not applied if you are moving fast. Brake maintenance would not be covered, but the damage that happens due to brake failure would be covered. Maintenance jobs are not covered under insurance,” clarifies Padmanabh.

Honest disclosure is crucial for quicker claims

Ensure that your claim mentions all the details accurately. Insurers have been known to use technology to verify your claims.

Padmanabh elaborates, “An honest disclosure is important while both claiming and buying an insurance policy. If policy holder misrepresents, there are evidences we can get from various sources. If an accident happened during the night-time when restrictions were in place, policyholder can’t manipulate as we would get the actual picture through police records that will mention the timing of the vehicle seizure.”

Insurers also rely on CCTV footages to verify your claim. “Insurers can also cross-check traffic violations through the Regional Traffic Office records, or the location details through Google Earth and even use drones for fire insurance surveys,” adds Karani.

Just because there could have been delay in claiming motor insurance due to closed workshops that doesn’t mean you could pass off an old damage as something that happened recently. “Through the photographs and experience we can judge whether the damage is fresh or an old damage. As we have been settling claims through 2001, the AI learning has been tremendous and the system is well matured due to the data fed into the systems,” says Padmanabh.

New ways to report claims

Times are changing and technology now plays a larger role in the way you make an insurance claim and how the insurer verifies it. For instance, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance has introduced a Whatsapp link that can be used to intimate the claim. Or you could place a missed call and they’ll call you back.

Up until now, insurers used to fall back on surveyors to do a physical assessment of your damaged vehicle. But a shift to digital means has ensured that claims can be logged in using videos and images shared by the car owner, instead of the surveyor.

The percentage of claims coming in through such mode has increased. Padmanabh says, “Through our self-service app we are able to assess the damage on the spot and approve claims upto Rs 30,000 for four-wheelers and Rs 10,000 for two-wheelers. During the COVID-19 outbreak, 50-60 percent of claims are being settled through the app.”

HDFC ERGO General Insurance tells us that it settles 60-65 percent of its total motor claims through video calls typically, but in this pandemic, almost all the claims have been assessed through video surveys.

Remember to upload multiple pictures of your damaged vehicle, photos taken from various angles to get the true and complete picture of the damage. Make sure you take clear pictures in daylight.

Moneycontrol Take

While lockdown has been imposed for the safety of general public, stepping out for essentials and non-interruption of essential services too was crucial. Any damage done to the vehicles during such period would always be guided by laws. Of course, you should have paid your motor insurance premiums by May 15; the final date during the extended period granted due to Covid-19 to pay your insurance policy premiums.

If you feel that a rightful claim has been denied for a frivolous issue, then you can reach out to the grievance officer and request them to re-look. But always ask for a letter from your insurer stating the reason for rejection.