Quirky claims liven up the humdrum routine at your local insurance office

Insurance is designed to cover the unexpected. Sometimes that unexpected is downright bizarre. I had to explain away one such claim to my own insurer earlier this year, after losing all of our wetsuits off the top of my car in one fell swoop.

Insurance companies see way more quirky claims than that. So I thought I'd find out what other weird and wonderful claims fellow Kiwis have made to their insurers.

People can own some pretty weird things. One of AA Insurance's customers had a horse massage rug worth more than $12,000 stolen from his vehicle.

The reality is that it doesn't matter how quirky a claim is - if it's covered under the wording and you meet the terms and conditions of the policy, the insurance company will pay out. The horse massager claim was paid in full.

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World Nomads insurance paid out on a travel policy for an incident related to genital piercing. When medical attention was needed, "we covered doctor's fees and the cost of local anaesthetic," says Phil Sylvester, heard of PR and media communications. It sounds too bizarre to be true, but it was.

Sylvester says one customer was travelling in India when he noticed parasites moving around under the skin of his leg.

"He went to the local doctor who gave him antibiotics and suggested he strap a raw steak to his leg." The parasites found the raw meat more appealing than the man's leg and migrated into the meat, which saved the man from surgery.

"We paid for the doctor's visit and the antibiotics, but the traveller bought the steak himself."

Where these quirky claims can go awry is if they're excluded for some reason. That might be, for example, because the claim involves something for business, not personal use. AA Insurance looked into that in the horse massager claim, but found it was for personal use.

At Southern Cross Travel Insurance (SCTI), staff must roll their eyes when they see injuries related to monkeys. SCTI has paid out for many such claims this year and last year alone.

In Thailand, one SCTI customer was bitten during a fight between two monkeys. In Bali, a customer had her sunglasses stolen by a monkey and also on the same island, but probably not the same beast, a monkey bit the hand of a customer as she ate a banana. There's a moral to that story.

Extraordinary accidents can happen at home, too. IAG came up with a cracker that more than a few readers could identify with. "One customer submitted his claim with a long letter of explanation stating that he was watching Coronation Street with his tea tray on his knee and also his favourite toffees. The programme was so intense that he did not notice that he had picked up his hearing aid and started to chew it." It was covered for accidental damage.

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Coronation Street was so intense he did not notice that he picked up his hearing aid and starting chewing it.

Another elderly IAG customer was reversing into her driveway. In her rear-vision mirror she unexpectedly spotted her lawnmower man. "She got such a fright that she put her foot on the accelerator, not the brake and reversed over the lawn, up her deck stairs and into her swimming pool." The car was written off and IAG also paid to have it removed (with difficulty) from the pool. "The deck and pool needed repair too, so an assessor went out to do that and help the repairs along."

The Insurance & Financial Services ombudsman sees a lot of borderline insurance claims that have been turned down. Some of them are quite quirky. In one case, a man claimed to be having a "sort of a romantic meeting" with his wife on a mattress in the back of his van. He wrote on his claim form that he accidentally knocked over a petrol can during the meeting. Later he lit a cigarette, which he said set the van on fire.

The insurer declined that claim. A report by the Institute of Environmental Science & Research found evidence of petrol in the footwells, when the vehicle car owner claimed it had spilt in the back of the van.

Pets cause an awful lot of interesting claims. Another case that made it to the ombudsman involved a pet rat that damaged a two-seater sofa after escaping from its cage.

Pets cause an awful lot of interesting claims.

The insurance company declined the claim, relying on a "pest damage" exclusion that denied cover for loss or damage caused "directly or indirectly, by insects, rodents or vermin." The rat owner argued that the spirit and thrust of the exclusion related to wild vermin, and didn't exclude pets living in cages inside the home. The insurer argued that even though the rat was a pet, it was still a rodent and therefore a pest. However the ombudsman took the owner's side, agreeing that although the rat was a rodent, it wasn't a pest because it was a pet.

Claims staff at pet insurance companies get their fair share of laughs over their furry and feathered clients. Some recent payouts from Southern Cross Pet Insurance include a Dalmatian dog, which found itself in a spot of pain after a kebab stick it swallowed stuck into the side of its lung. A German shepherd unsuccessfully tried to get inside through a cat door. This resulted in the cat door being stuck around its neck and a deep laceration from broken glass. A bichon frise with a habit of chewing cables unsurprisingly got an electric shock and had to be monitored by a vet.

More than one Labrador has eaten things it shouldn't, says SCTI chief executive Craig Morrison. A Labrador required surgery to remove the contents of its stomach after eating about 5kg of rotting seal carcass. Another helped itself to the contents of the family's picnic by opening the chilly bin. Inside, it feasted on onions, hummus, grapes, a bag of ice and broccoli. The bill for vet treatment for food poisoning and toxicity caused by the grapes and onions was picked up by the insurance company.

I came across a story that would have been quite funny if the claim hadn't fallen outside the policy wording with insurer Youi. A young South Auckland policeman was getting ready to move house and put his beloved and expensive flat-screen TV on the sofa in preparation for boxing it. Unfortunately, the policeman's flatmate came home, ran across the lounge and leapt over the back of the sofa onto the TV, destroying it. When he called to claim, the policeman found that his contents policy was non-standard and didn't cover accidental damage.

This shows that everyone should check that their contents insurance covers accidental damage.

For some final amusement, check out some of the pet names insured with Southern Cross Pet Insurance: Richie McPaw, Johnnie Rose Love Cuddles, Neighbours Cat, Margaret Scratcher, and Harrison Pawd.

• This week AA Insurance announced it was returning to full open-ended home replacement cover for damage cause by fire, flood or storm. These claims will not be limited to the sum insured.