In July 2016 Miguel and Selina travelled to the west coast of the United States for a two week holiday. After spending some time in California, Miguel and Selina travelled to Las Vegas for a few nights to unwind and to see a favourite DJ play a set at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
Miguel and Selina decided to splurge on renting a beach cabana for the day to enjoy a VIP style experience. Miguel and Selina danced together at the stage and spent some time in the pool, but regularly returned to their cabana throughout the afternoon and evening.
Once the event had finished, Miguel and Selina gathered their belongings and went to settle the bill in cash. Unfortunately, Miguel’s wallet, containing about $700 USD was gone. Neither Miguel or Selina saw anyone take the wallet from Selina’s beach bag.
Miguel and Selina advised Mandalay Bay security staff of the loss immediately but it was not recovered.
Miguel and Selina reported the loss to the Las Vegas Metro Police. Miguel and Selina concluded that a Mandalay Bay staff member had removed the wallet and cash from Selina’s closed beach bag, which had been on the sunbed in the beach cabana during the event.
Once back in New Zealand, Miguel filed a claim with his insurer for his wallet and stolen cash.
The insurer investigated the claim and declined to cover Miguel and Selina’s loss. The insurer cited an exclusion clause in the policy for cash in excess of $250NZD and for unattended baggage in a public place.
Miguel and Selina were very disappointed and asked the insurer to review the claim. The insurer reviewed its decision but upheld its declinature of Miguel and Selina’s claim. Miguel and Selina complained to FSCL.
Miguel and Selina’s view
Miguel and Selina felt that they had taken all reasonable precautions to keep their belongings safe and that their travel insurance should cover their loss. They considered that their cabana was private and that the exclusivity meant it should not be considered a public place.
The insurer’s view
The insurer considered that it had responded fairly to Miguel and Selina’s claim and that the exclusion clause was clear that the policy would not respond to losses that occurred while the belongings were unattended in a public place.
We asked the insurer to provide us with the full policy wording and any information concerning the hotel’s layout which it had uncovered during the course of its review.
Concerning cash, the policy said that it would pay up to a maximum policy benefit of $250 NZD for ‘accidental loss or theft from your person or from a locked safe or from your accommodation when you are present in the room’.
On the evidence we were satisfied that Miguel and Selina had not had the wallet on their person or in a locked safe and that the cabana was not their accommodation and not a ‘room’. We considered that the cash in the wallet was not covered under the policy.
The wallet itself was a designer label and was quite expensive. It was covered under a separate part of the policy governing personal baggage. We considered that the loss met the insuring clause under the policy.
We next checked to see if any exclusions applied which would deny cover for the wallet. The policy had an exclusion that the insurer would not will not pay for loss of “personal baggage left unattended by you or your travelling companion in a public place. This includes where an item is at a distance from you that you cannot prevent it from being taken”.
The policy defined a public place as “any area to which the public has access (whether authorised or not) including but not limited to hotel foyers and grounds, restaurants, public toilets, beaches, airports, rail stations, bus terminals, taxi stands and wharves”.
We considered that the beach cabana at the Mandalay Bay was a public place as it was open and the public could reasonably access it, even if it was meant to be more exclusive. We considered that because the loss had been able to occur without Miguel or Selina noticing that the beach bag, and the wallet inside, had been taken meant that the beach bag and wallet had been left “unattended in a public place”.
We explained that the insurer had acted reasonably to decline Miguel and Selina’s claim because Miguel’s wallet was taken while unattended in a public place. Miguel and Selina accepted our view and discontinued their complaint.
Key insight for consumers
A common exclusion in travel insurance is for items taken or lost while unattended in a public place. Unattended is usually referred to as being at such a distance where you cannot prevent the item from being taken and is often implied from the circumstances of the loss. Public place is also typically defined and includes any place a public person could have access to, whether authorised or not.
It pays to keep your wits about you and keep your belongings in handy reach and within your sight so as to prevent loss in the first place and to not jeopardise your travel insurance cover.