Luggage stolen from a locked vehicle

Marc and Steven were travelling overseas in a small hatchback car when they parked outside a service station to use the bathroom. Marc and Steven left all their luggage in the back of the car, two daypacks in the back seat, and Marc left his wallet and phone in the front seat of the car. Marc was certain that he locked the car with a remote locking device on the key fob.

Only a few minutes later, Marc and Steven returned to discover their daypacks and Marc’s phone and wallet had been stolen. Marc and Steven asked the service station staff, but nobody had seen anything and the staff said the CCTV cameras were not working. The service station manager telephoned the local police station for Marc and Steven, but the police said they had to report the theft in person. Marc and Steven could not follow the directions to the nearest police station, so continued with their journey and reported the theft the same day at the next police station they were able to find.

Marc and Steven lodged a claim with their travel insurer for the stolen items, worth $8,000. When the insurer declined their claim, Marc and Steven referred their complaint to FSCL.



The insurer declined the claim saying that money was only covered by the policy if it was stolen from Marc’s person, from a locked safe, or from a room where Marc was present. With respect to the items stolen from the car, the insurer said the loss would only be covered if the items had been stored in a locked compartment and forced entry was gained or, if no locked compartment was available, the items were unable to be seen from outside the locked vehicle.

Marc and Steven said the insurer’s decision was unfair. Marc and Steven agreed it is not safe to leave luggage in a car for any extended period but said they had been away from the car for less than 5 minutes. Marc and Steven also said they had placed most of their items in the luggage compartment, but the daypacks would not fit, and they had no option but to leave their daypacks on the back seat. Marc was certain he had locked the car and suggested that the thieves may have used a transmitter and amplifier to locate the signal from the key fob, amplify that signal, and unlock the car. Marc and Steven submitted that the thieves effectively gained access by force.



Whenever we review a complaint about a declined insurance claim, the starting point is the policy. In this case, the insurer accepted that the insuring clause was met and that there was cover for the accidental loss of personal luggage. However, before accepting the claim, the insurer was entitled to consider whether any exclusion clauses apply.

Under the policy, the insurer did not agree to provide cover for items stolen from a car, unless those items were stored in a locked luggage compartment and forced entry was gained. However, the policy went on to say that if there was no locked luggage compartment there will be cover if the items were unable to be seen from outside the vehicle. Perhaps if the items had been placed under the seats of the car, stored in the glove box, or if the car had tinted windows so the bags on the back seat could not be seen, there might have been cover.

We explained to Marc and Steven that, from the circumstances as they described them, their bags, phones and wallet were able to be seen from outside the car, allowing the insurer to decline the claim.

Although Marc and Steven had submitted that a transmitter and amplifier were used to gain access to the car, and this might be possible, it was equally likely that Marc simply forgot to lock the car. However, given our finding that the stolen items were able to be seen from outside the car, it was not necessary to decide how the thieves broke into the car.



We suggested to Marc and Steven that they discontinue their complaint. Marc and Steven did not reply, and so we assumed they did not want to pursue the complaint any further and discontinued our investigation.


Insights for consumers

It is very important to take care of your luggage while travelling overseas. It is not unusual for travel insurance policies to carry an exclusion for loss where items left in a car can be seen from outside the locked vehicle.