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Web of deceit: claimant blamed spider for crash

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A complainant who spun a tale about how a spider caused him to lose control of his car, sending the vehicle crashing into a guard rail, has failed in his bid to have his motor insurance claim accepted.

The driver held a comprehensive motor vehicle policy with Suncorp when the incident happened last year, and stood to make a financial windfall of between $15,000 and $20,000 if his claim was successful.

His son, who went to the accident scene after getting a call from his father, says he was not aware of the existence of a spider lurking in the car, contradicting the complainant’s version of events. The complainant had previously said he had seen the spider before and sprayed some insecticide at it and also not allowed his children into the car.

The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) upheld Suncorp’s decision to deny the claim, ruling “inconsistencies” in the information provided by the complainant raised significant issues as to the “true circumstances” of the collision.

“There is no dispute the complainant’s vehicle was damaged in a collision with the guard rail,” AFCA said. “However, I do not accept that the collision occurred in the manner described by the complainant.”

The complainant had notified Suncorp immediately after his 2015 Hyundai Tucson, which was insured for an agreed value of $31,000, hit the guard rail at about 9.30pm on November 12 last year. He says he was driving and lost control when a spider suddenly appeared on his hand.

In his interview with Suncorp days after the incident, the complainant says he was on the entrance ramp to the highway when he saw the spider and he was so shocked that his knees locked and he lost control.

He thought he was travelling at about 60 kmph when he noticed the spider but says his speed had slowed down by the time his vehicle hit the fence. He says he was visiting a friend that night and they later decided to visit another friend and drove separately in their cars.

Suncorp had the vehicle examined by an accident reconstruction consultant, who extracted crash data from the car. The data shows the car was travelling at 1-7kmh with no application of the brake 5-2 seconds before the collision. Between two seconds and point of impact, the speed increased from 7kmh to 30 kmph with the brake not activated, and the accelerator pedal position decreases from 99% to zero at impact.

The consultant considered the vehicle was likely to have been in first gear for the five seconds prior to the collision and concluded the complainant was travelling between 1-30 kmph in the five seconds prior to the collision in a 100 kmph speed zone.

The crash data is inconsistent with the version of events provided by the complainant, who was given an opportunity to clarify the inconsistencies with the forensic report. However he says he cannot recall what happened in the five seconds prior to the accident, whether he had braked or why he was travelling so slowly.

“The report supports a finding that when the complainant had entered the freeway ramp the vehicle was in first gear and was still in first gear at the time of colliding with the guard rail,” AFCA said.

AFCA also accepts Suncorp’s position that the complainant, who was receiving Centrelink benefits and had limited disposable income, had a possible financial motive to stage a collision.

The vehicle was involved in a prior collision in 2018 and assessed as a total loss. Suncorp paid the complainant’s finance company $23,225.16 and the complainant later bought the salvage from the insurer for $3000 and provided invoices totaling $7327 to repair the vehicle. The repaired vehicle was then reinsured with Suncorp for an agreed value of $31,000.

“Based on the total cost of the vehicle claimed by the complainant, the complainant stood to make a significant financial windfall of between $15,000 and $20,000 in the event of a successful claim,” AFCA said. “In the circumstances, I accept such a significant financial gain could provide a motive for the complainant to be involved in a staged collision.”

AFCA says it accepts there are issues with the complainant’s character and credibility after the man again changed his account of the spider tale, saying he never told his son about the spider.

There were no witnesses to the incident and while the complainant claimed there was an ambulance right behind him, there was no evidence to back it up.

“Opportunity exists to be involved in a staged accident,” AFCA said. “I accept given the forensic information and the absence of any witnesses or CCTV footage as to the accident that it is possible the complainant could have deliberately staged the accident for financial gain.”

Click here for the ruling.