Leaving Property Unattended – What’s the big deal?

If you’ve travelled or know someone who’s travelled, chances are you’ve experienced a case of theft or know someone who has.

Theft occurs in various ways – bag snatching, pickpocketing, break and enter and even taking items which have been left unattended.

Most if not all travel insurance policies carry exclusions relating to unattended property.

Generally speaking, insurance companies expect that the policyholder will exercise reasonable care to safeguard their property from loss, theft or damage.  There will usually be a clause within the policy to this effect.  The theory behind this is that you should act as a “prudent uninsured”.  This term simply means that you should act as if you don’t have insurance.  The fact that your property is insured doesn’t mean you can throw caution to the wind when it comes to taking care of your belongings.

To be fair, not many people act recklessly with little care for their possessions and most are cautious about safeguarding their belongings.  However, leaving your property unattended in a public place increases the risk that it will be stolen.

Travellers by nature can be easy targets when it comes to opportune thieves.  A traveller is less familiar with the environment, distracted by the sights and sounds of their location and often carrying high value items in their bag or daypack.  For instance, it is not uncommon for a traveller to be carrying their wallet, camera, smartphone and tablet in their bag.  Most believe these items are safer on their person than if left unattended in their hotel or hostel room.  This strategy can fall short though as inevitably, the bag will be placed on the back of a chair, under a table or similar.  The camera or smartphone will be removed from the bag and used.  Sometimes, it is simply forgotten when it’s time to move on.

While most thieves are opportune, leaving your property unattended in a public place can be too tempting.  Many thieves are just lurking around popular tourist attractions and public spaces looking for an opportunity to strike an unsuspecting tourist.

All insurance policies carry definitions of certain words and phrases.  When it comes to determining if the policy can respond to a claim, it is those definitions which will be considered over and above what the word or phrase may mean in the ordinary course of use.

Travel insurance policies usually carry definitions for the terms “Unattended”, “Public Place” and “Left Behind”.  So, when deciding if a claimant has left their property “unattended in a public place” it is the policy definitions for these terms which will be considered – these definitions may not correlate with what you think the words mean.

For instance, the policy definition for “unattended” may include a circumstance where your property is at a distance from which you cannot prevent it from being stolen or it is not in your direct line of sight.  You might not consider your bag located 5m away from you while you check in to your hotel to be “unattended” but an insurer may think otherwise.

Let’s look at a few specifics of where an insurer might consider that you have left your property unattended in a public place or it has been left behind.

Left Behind

The key here is whether you have parted company with your belongings because you failed to collect them at the time of leaving or vacating an area.  For instance, the following scenarios are unlikely to be covered (or only partially covered):

  • Leaving your tablet in the seat pocket when you leave an aircraft, bus or train.
  • Leaving items in the overhead locker when you disembark public transport.
  • Leaving luggage on the airport luggage carousel.
  • Leaving your belongings in your hotel room when you check-out.
  • Leaving your rings on the basin after washing your hands in a public restroom.
  • Forgetting to collect your belongings when you leave a restaurant, bar or café.
  • Leaving your smartphone in a taxi.

Unattended in a Public Place

The key here is whether the general public has access to the area where you have left your property. Also, the proximity of your belongings to you and your ability to safeguard them from theft are also relevant. For instance, placing your property in any of the following scenarios is unlikely to be covered (or only partially covered):

  • On the beach or beside the hotel pool while you go swimming.
  • With someone you did not know before you went on the trip.
  • With someone who is not insured under the policy.
  • On the table while you collect food from a restaurant buffet.
  • Outside a public toilet.
  • On the footpath while you disembark from a taxi.
  • In a shared dormitory or hostel room.

Leaving your property in a locked hotel room or locked private accommodation is usually accepted by insurers as reasonable precautions to protect it from unauthorised interference.  It’s even better if you can take advantage of an in-room safe or locker to store your valuables against theft.  Similarly, leaving your property with the hotel concierge for storage in a locked room should also be fine.  It pays though to check the specifics with your chosen travel insurance provider as there is no consistency across policies.

Last words …

The onus to protect your property from theft, loss or damage rests with you.  Insurers will expect that you exercise a higher degree of care to safeguard valuable or high risk items from loss.  Examples of valuables or high risk items include electronic equipment, jewellery, money and your passport.   Most policies will exclude claims for loss or theft of valuable / high risk items where you have left them behind or unattended in a public place.  Many policies provide to cover you for loss of non-valuable items if left behind or unattended in a public place (eg jumper, hat, books etc).  In this case, the policy may carry a limit of the amount you can claim for general property (eg $250) for property left unattended / left behind.

Each insurance policy carries its own definitions and clauses.  Please read the Product Disclosure Statement to make sure the cover is suitable for your needs and check with your chosen provider if you have any queries about how your property will or will not be covered while travelling.

If you have any queries about how the Go Insurance travel policy responds to cover this, please don’t hesitate to contact us on 1300 819 888 or via email sales@goinsurance.com.au



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