It is not uncommon for insurers to refuse payment after a vehicle has been stolen. The reason often given is that "theft is not sufficiently proven". The insurer often uses the formulation that the policyholder is "referred to the legal process". Unspokenly, this includes the accusation that the policyholder faked the theft and therefore no insurance benefit is paid, unless the policyholder enforces his claim in court.
From the statistics of the German Insurance Association e.V. GDV shows that in the year 2020 a total of 20.329 hull-insured vehicles have been stolen. In addition to motorcycles, trucks and other vehicles, this included 10.697 passenger car. Although the number of theft cases has decreased compared to previous years, the number of cases is still considerable and leads to high costs for the insurance company. Insured is theft in motor vehicle partial or comprehensive insurance.
The problem with such insurance cases is that theft, by its very nature, is usually clandestine and there are no witnesses or other evidence to prove that a vehicle has actually been stolen. Unfortunately, many insurers make it all too easy in this situation. Refuse any insurance benefit. The practice of lawyers shows that in many cases the refusal of the insurer to pay is not sustainable in the courts. On the other hand, it must also be acknowledged that in the past quite a few claims have subsequently turned out to have been faked by the policyholder. This is criminal insurance fraud. However, from a lawyer's point of view, it is unacceptable if a bona fide policyholder is accused of fraudulent intentions without any concrete indications.
Due to the actual difficulties of proof, case law has developed established rules for the distribution of the burden of proof between policyholder and insurer. According to the basic legal rule, the policyholder would have to prove the theft of the vehicle. As already mentioned, this is not possible in most cases, since there are no witnesses to the theft and it can only be established that the vehicle suddenly disappeared. Against this background, the Federal Court of Justice already declared in a landmark decision in 1984 (IVa ZR 19/82) that leaving the burden of proof strictly with the policyholder would be incompatible with the content and objective of comprehensive insurance. Therefore exist Easing of the burden of proof in favor of the policyholder. The so-called Two-stage model:
– On the first stage it is easier for the policyholder to prove the theft, in that it is sufficient for the policyholder to present facts to prove the external image of the theft.
– On the second stage the insurer can destroy the successful proof of the external image of an insured theft by presenting facts from which a pretense could arise.
What does this mean in concrete terms?
On the first stage The policyholder must present facts to prove the external image of theft. The facts to be proven by the policyholder must, according to life experience, lead to the conclusion that the vehicle has been stolen. It is sufficient if the policyholder demonstrates conclusively and without contradiction that he parked the vehicle at a certain place at a certain time and did not find it there again (BGH, judgement of 30 September 2006).01.2002 – IV ZR 263/00). The necessary evidence in favor of the policyholder can also be successfully presented in court by the policyholder himself making credible statements for the court in the course of the party hearing or the party interrogation. An honest policyholder will therefore usually succeed in proving the outward appearance of a theft, provided that the case is handled competently.
Then would have to be on the second stage The insurer must be able to present facts showing that the theft was faked. According to the case law (BGH, judgment of 05.11.1986 – IVa ZR 57/86), the insurer must, however, be able to prove concrete facts from which there is a substantial probability that the theft could only be faked. It is not sufficient for this if the insurer merely states that there were no signs of break-in on the vehicle found later, or that the policyholder cannot present all the original keys. The policyholder usually only encounters difficulties if he has made contradictory statements, for example if he has stated different facts in a police criminal report than in the damage report to the insurer.
As a result, it can be stated that the insurer cannot justify the refusal to pay insurance benefits on the basis of vague doubts. In many cases, it is therefore worthwhile to consult a specialized lawyer in order to enforce the insurance benefit. The law firm TREWIUS Attorneys at Law offers a free initial assessment the legal situation.